Let us win the Revolution!
A war may be lost. The most ill-fated war is never irretrievable. The worst peace is never final.
But a Revolution must be won.
A revolution occurs once only. It is not a matter which a nation negotiates with other nations. It is the most private, intimate concern of a people, which that people must handle for itself and by itself. According to the direction in which the people voluntarily guides a revolution, its outcome determines that people’s future fate.
We Germans have never yet had a political revolution in our history. This may be taken as an indication that our history is in mid-course. The English have behind them their religious revolution and their glorious political revolution. The French have had their Revolution. Both these nations are older than we. Their people are experienced, tried, matured. Their revolutions have made political nations of them. The national upheaval wrecked their normal life; but they were able to salvage enough to lay the foundations of their further political development. We know to our cost with what unerring assurance and self-command they met the world-crisis, with what shrewd self-calculation they, who had engineered the War, met all its vicissitudes with the single-hearted determination of ultimately winning it. We know to our cost the cold intellectual scorn with which they exploited their victory to devise a peace-treaty whose conditions should supply them with new means to new ends; to reap fresh advantage from the altered world-situation.
The War was won by the conscious political spirit of Britain, which dates from the English Revolution, and by the conscious political spirit of France, which the French owe to the French Revolution. We are younger than either of these peoples. We have an advantage over them: we are an immature people, but we are also an unexhausted people, which has not yet evolved its political "ego," not even yet its national "ego." We have at the moment no Present, and we have been cut off from our Past, so that we are drifting in uncertainty. But we have reached a turning-point. We must make a decision: shall we remain a child-like people, giving little thought to our Future, till some day we find that we have none? Or are we able and willing to learn from our recent experience of our own political temperament and character? Are we prepared to give to our political existence a national form?
A revolution is an opportunity in the life-history of a people which never recurs. Our Revolution is such an opportunity. Shall we seize it? Or shall we let it slip? Years have passed since our collapse. We have spent these years comforting ourselves about our fate; but in these years we done nothing to alter our fate.
The Revolution proceeds. It continues in the spirit. We do not yet know whether, not having gone deep enough at first, it will again break out in action. One thing, however, we do know: the movement cannot come finally to rest until the forces it released have attained some goal. This is our opportunity: our last: still open to us—to win by the Revolution what by the War we lost. The opportunity to recognize why we lost in the political field the World War which on the battlefield we won—and to take steps accordingly.
The Revolution has three aspects: a socialist, an economic, a Marxist-millennial aspect. These we shall presently discuss.
Above all, it has a German aspect. While our volcano spews out only catch-words, dogmas and slogans from its crater, we get glimpses into the depths where a subterranean river flows, which is striving to change direction: the mighty river of German history which seeks to regain its bed, which to our undoing it had quitted.
Our history had lost its way. Nothing of ours of late has been succeeding. Nothing today: nothing yesterday: nothing—if we think back—for the last generation. The last success we had was the foundation of the Second German Empire. It is more than a mere impulse of self-preservation that makes us concentrate our thoughts on this Empire as the sole possession we can still boast. We cherish it from political conviction: a conviction shared even by those revolutionaries who are in every other point radically opposed to all that is German, but who cling to the thought of that Empire as our sheet-anchor.
All great ideas are simple, though their realization may be difficult. So it was with the founding of the Second German Empire. We had, however, a statesmen in those days. One who dared to play the role of Fate. Bismarck bore down all resistance: the resistances of the status quo in Europe, considerations of the Holy Alliance and of the Confederation of Rhine, many and various inheritances from 1848, resistances in our own perverse German temperament which is often hostile to our best interests. Bismarck waited for the propitious moment: when it did not come, he created it. He needed pretexts; when they did not present themselves, he created them. He compelled circumstances to serve him. The time was ripe for the Empire; Bismarck brought it to birth. He translated into fact the schemes of the theorists and the visions of the romantics. He had the eye to see the power and quality of the German people: their efficiency, their docility, their devotion—a people too good, it seemed to him, to live in political inferiority, to belong to the less-fortunate among the nations. He conceived the ambition to make Germany again a great people. The unification of Germany had the inevitability of a convulsion of nature. The world—though later it was to turn against us—recognized it with sympathy and without reserve. Bismarck had done his work.
Yet the work of Bismarck failed. He did not find the men able to carry it on. His pace had been so swift that lesser men could not keep up. Since our collapse we have realized the truth: that Bismarck crowded into one man’s lifetime a series of changes which would have needed a century apiece, if the ideas underlying them were to ripen and mature: the German Alliance, the Customs Union, the North German Confederation, the German Federal Empire. We perceive this too late; we see too late that he left behind him no successor either in politics or diplomacy. The reason of this must be sought. The fault lay not with Bismarck, but with the German people who were no Bismarcks. Signs of exhaustion were evident even in the hour of the Empire’s birth. Our decline had its origin in a spiritual exhaustion.
Germany was now without a dream. She had had the dream: of future unity. This was now fulfilled; and fulfilled dreams tend to beget an anti-climax, a certain slackness, unless there is some spur to further achievement. We strove no more. We rested on our oars. We became materialists in a materialistic age. As a nation we took no share in the spiritual and political movements of the century. We left the dreaming of political dreams to other peoples, whether they wove a national mysticism out of thoughts of revanche, or fell victims to a morbid irredentism, or to an Anglo-Saxon creed of their own superiority, or to visions of Pan-slavism. Against all these we had only our outworn dream: the conviction of victory already won. We rested content with our present, and with our achievements in world economics. We borrowed a romantic idealism and developed it into an imperialism which had no roots in a dream of our own. We gave this imperialism no national basis in the claim of a united nation to space for its growing population; we did not justify it by pointing to the value of our work and gradually accustoming the world to recognize that political power must follow as a consequence. We talked loudly of our achievements, but were content to remain amateurs in world-politics, half-hearted, inefficient, inconsequent dilettanti. Meanwhile we allowed the dreams of our opponents to grow, and we did not, or would not, perceive that they were building up a system against us which was preparing to encircle and baulk and crush us. What a set of men we had become in those last generations before our collapse! Still, fossilized men lacking all resilience; over-disciplined, entangled in red tape, all adaptability lost! What an age it was, that of William II: mechanized, bureaucrat-ridden and yet boastful, poor for all its wealth, ugly for all its display: an age doomed to shipwreck, doomed to see the day that swept away all its successes.
The foundation of the Empire fulfilled our dreams. But under the Empire everything went wrong. Only one of the our traditions was preserved unspoiled: the military and strategic tradition. To that fact we owe it that we were victorious on every battlefield in the World War. But in the political field we let slip things which could never be recaptured. The spiritual slackness of the preceding generations did its work. The greatest ability of our greatest generals failed us during the War, because it lacked a foundation: imagination, experience, tact, decision, the power of handling circumstance. Similarly, after the Revolution we remained under the spell of William II’s age, inefficient amateurs at once arrogant and timorous. The politicians who directed our affairs after the Revolution suffered from the same defects, socialists and democrats alike. The same evil spell clung to the Chancellor of the Armistice and to the Chancellor of the Peace. All have been a prey to the same destroying spirit. Whatever they undertake: we know it will be in vain. However deeply they were convinced that they were doing the right thing: they infallibly did the wrong. Their good intentions availed nothing.
Something has gone wrong with everything; and when we put our hand to anything to set it straight, it breaks to pieces in our fingers. We never find the right word in a political crisis. We let our decisions be forced from us always too soon or too late, never at the opportune moment. So it was before the War, and during the War; so it has been since the Revolution. The whole nation lies under an evil spell, which, it would seem, only the passage of time can lift, from which only the dying-off of that last generation can set us free, the death of every single person who belonged to it. Every new German statesman who has come to the fore has brought us disillusion. But when he disappears and vanishes from history, one more obstacle is gone. We have had such a dread succession of them in these last years! Time has not been granted us, however, to let this tedious procedure run its natural course. Before the elimination of that responsible generation has been complete, before the new generation has been able to seize the reins, the whole nation is faced with the need for new decisions. When will circumstances permit the great renewal of the German nation? That Ninth of November did not accomplish it; at most the Revolution paved the way. The renewal, when it comes, must draw from deeper, from more truly German springs. Shall we then find again Germans of talent, of decision, of action?
Someone, sometime, somewhere, pronounced our doom: "This whole generation is accused!" This formula explains why everything, alike what we do and what we leave undone, is blasted. The curse has clung.
It has at least cured us of the illusions in which we have ever been prone to indulge, of the opportunism which was fain to acquiesce in things as they were, of the optimism which sought to see this most miserable German world as "the best of all worlds possible." It has been a challenge. Cutting us off from false hopes, it has offered us one opportunity, one way out: not, however, to be found in specious phrases. One thing, and one only, can save us: a human, spiritual renewal: the evolution of a new race of Germans who shall make good all that we have wrecked.
The man who already belongs to this new race is the true revolutionary. The man who still speaks of "fulfilment" of "mutual-understanding," who still recognizes the Treaty of Versailles, is not of it. He is of the transition between the generation which is passing and the generation which is to come. The true revolutionary spirit which bursts asunder the bonds of fate is found not in transitions but in beginnings.
This true revolutionary spirit that we are waiting for has no link with the Insurrection which lies behind us; it has to do with a spiritual revolution in ourselves and directed against ourselves: which lies before us.
Our revolution is only beginning. The Insurrection which overthrew the state was only its herald; our revolution begins with a Resurrection in the souls of men. It is the dawn of a new mentality and a new self-knowledge. It is this; or—it is our doom.
Our present situation forces epoch-making decisions on us: decisions which seek to hasten the hour of our emancipation, even to anticipate it.
Yet all our active measures must be firmly based in political principle. We cannot act as politically-minded men until we have a politically-minded nation behind us.
The political situation is so delicate that it must be handled with the utmost care and skill. We cannot yet be sure that we are not heading for national annihilation. We shall certainly perish as a European people—and Europe will perish with us—unless we learn to utilize, with a political wisdom learnt from our revolutionary experiences, the possibilities that still lie open before us. Whatever Germany attempts in order to compass our salvation, men and measures must be well prepared in advance, the measures must be well matured, and must be fully carried out. Otherwise her attempt will plunge us once more into impotence, into disintegration, into a non-existence which will last this time not for decades but for centuries.
The November revolutionaries had not this wisdom. Politically their insurrection remains an immortal stupidity. Looking back we realize how inadequate, how unoriginal, how "German" it was: as if we had wanted to make good the old proverb: "when God is bent on destroying Germans, He takes a German for His instrument." The instruments He chose for the Ninth of November were the German social-democrats, who had never given a thought to foreign politics, German pacifists who took on themselves the responsibility for disarming the German people, German doctrinaires who were simple-minded enough to entrust their country to the tender mercies of its enemies, to rely on their promises, to count on their disinterestedness. Their policy was drift: they took no bearings, they carried neither compass nor anchor. The nation is now enduring the consequences of this negation of all policy. The German people believed what they were told. They were not a politically-minded people. They followed their demagogue leaders. The leaders assured them that if the slaughter was to have an end some nation must lead the way. The German people ran a red flag up to their mast-head—understanding it to be really a white one—and were amazed when the other ships did not follow with red streamers. Instead, they saw each proudly flying its national flag as a flag of victory. The German people had intended to do the wise thing. They had done the unwise one.
Our scorn must be reserved for the intellectuals who had persuaded the German people to this folly. These revolutionary literati, with their "spiritual politics" had had no thought beyond such trivialities as suffrages and ballot-boxes. Their Heinrich Mann had promised us "a world set free" and we were confronted with a "world enslaved." These intellectual blockheads still maintain the eternal validity of their principles: World-Democracy, the League of Nations, International Arbitration, the End of War, the Reign of Peace. They will neither see, nor hear, nor confess that they bear the blame for the fact that all round us men are suffering under foreign domination, that four peace-treaties have created a host of plundered, homeless men, while wars continue. They still do not perceive the gulf between a "reason" which represents things as men would wish them, and an "understanding" which investigates and inexorably represents things as they are.
Revolution is self-help. The Revolution of the Ninth of November was directed—so they told us—against a backward state, against a system that was behind the times and was working mischief. Taking the words out of the mouths of our opponents, they told us that our Revolution was directed against a criminal government which was not only guilty of the outbreak of the World War, but guilty of unnecessarily and wantonly prolonging the War in order to bolster its tottering power. All this they told us. All this we believed. We had good reason to mistrust our rulers, those officials who had stood face to face with fate and in the hour of tragedy had never been able to rise above being mere "officials." But we might with even better reason have mistrusted ourselves, mistrusted our own credulity, mistrusted our dangerous readiness to take advice without critically examining the credentials of our advisers. The Revolution will have significance only if it is able to suck the entire people into its vortex and from the underlying strata bring to the top burning, fluid forces to displace the cold, petrified upper stratum of our ruling classes. The Revolution has disappointed many expectations, socialist and other. Its greatest disillusionment has been, however, that the People has thrown up no leaders, Democracy no statesmen. If the Revolution is to effect the necessary renewal of the nation it can only be by turning its back on all that for the last generation has been, and still is, considered most specifically "German."
Our political situation is terrible to contemplate. We owe it to the impotence of Revolution. We have been encaged, and the Allies strut up and down outside our bars. We sought ignominious refuge in a peace which left us only an empire’s rump, which dismembered our father’ inheritance, laid hands on our rivers and even forbade to us the air. We were presented with a Republic, whose basis is not the Constitution of Weimar but the Treaty of Versailles. We were made serfs. We have even acquired the servile spirit; there are among us francophils in love with our enemies and with their modes of thought. We witnesses of that most abhorred scene in the Pariser Platz: our army, after four years of fighting, after a hundred battles, was returning home. A Jew, a lawyer, a pacifist, a "people’s representative," civilian of the civilians, a man who had helped to engineer the collapse behind the front, was the man who offered to our soldiers in the name of the Republic greeting and thanks. In flattering, patronizing words he spoke. . . . We were witnesses of this most shameful, most shameless scene of all. . . .
Yet there is something in us, not resigned to events as they have happened and yet prepared to consider them from another point of view. What would have happened if we had won? The William of Second spirit would have celebrated its utmost outward triumph. Yet our people would still have been the same who reacted with so much unwisdom to the Ninth of November. Would this people have been better able to endure victory? Who knows? We should have witnessed a different scene at the Brandenburg Gate: an inevitable scene: the Kaiser riding at the head of his paladins, posing like an equestrian statue to receive the congratulations of his grateful people. Or perhaps a repetition of that most distressing scene between the old Emperor and Bismarck in Versailles. And if the conduct of William I was not above human weakness, what might have been expected from his self-sufficient grandson?
Yes. There is a stirring in us which will not be stilled. It poses a question. It demands an answer. . . . And we reflect on the words which a great general addressed to his humiliated people: "Who knows? There may be some good in it."
The people did not want the Revolution. But they made it. So we got our revolutionary state; and we got our revolutionary statesmen, and we got our revolutionary Peace.
And now the inevitable consequences follow; and no man and foresee whether this life can ever be changed. Unless indeed the German people, under the yoke of foreign domination which it has accepted, is able to transform itself into a nationally-minded, into a politically-minded people, determined to be free. Meantime we must bear our life as best we may and grimly await the moment when present friction, intolerable circumstance, and the ignominy of our existence shall set the genius of our nation afire, when a political spirit shall awake among us to claim the reversion of the future—of which no one can rob us. Unless the nation itself renounces its reversion and its future.
Like every breach with the past, the German Revolution was pregnant with great possibilities, possibilities in domestic politics, possibilities in foreign politics. When the fraud was understood which the Entente had perpetrated, in which Wilson had acquiesced, the people was offered the greatest of all opportunities which is open to a nation betrayed. An immense indignation might have stirred the deluded nation to its depths. With a passionate gesture we might have flung in our enemies’ teeth their breach of faith, we might have repudiated the Peace which they offered us in Versailles, together with the confession of war-guilt on which they based it. But the revolutionaries thought themselves particularly clever in accepting the perjury of the Entente—obvious though it already was—without serious protest. They thought it better to placate our enemies than to irritate them, and they gratified our enemies and themselves by loading the guilt for the outbreak of the War on to the government they had overthrown, thereby exonerating themselves for overthrowing it. We might have taken up the battle for our future German existence in the name of the admirable principles with which the American President had decoyed us; we might have taken the Entente at its word and insisted that the Treaty should honour these principles. With this politico-ethical background for our battle we could have sprung on the world a completed union with Austria, we could with one revolutionary stroke have solved the problem of a Greater Germany and thus have initiated a Central-European policy: all of which omissions must now be made good in an ever more distant future. We failed to grasp the decisive moment. We did not seize the decisive day. We left the decisive year to pass by. Everything happened as—considering the calibre of the men we had to deal with—it was bound to happen. Events took their fateful course. We were not free in our decisions; we were entangled in this false and half-hearted Revolution. There was no talk of introducing a new economic system. Though this Revolution thought it was a socialist revolution, Socialism was one of the things that it bungled. Our remarkable socialists made even more remarkable politicians. They decided in favour of western parliamentism, shrinking back from eastern terror-dictatorship. As soon as it ceased to be a question of theoretical discussion (which was always our strong suit) and became a question of practical application (in which we were always weak) we produced no original German revolutionary principles or ideas. We were true to one idea only: to give ourselves away.
The German revolutionaries will say in their own defence that they took over an inheritance. The answer to that is: if the old system bears the blame of the collapse, the new system bears the onus of the Peace. The new regime began its rule with the declaration that from henceforth all paths were open to the best man. As was seemly in a democracy, each man would owe his position not to his birth but to his gifts. We are entitled to ask the Revolution, and her child the Republic, that they should show us these "best men." Revolution and Republic have begotten no geniuses but only compromisers: wait-and-see men, not men of action: anvils not hammers: they have shown patience, not daring, laissez-faire, not enterprise—in no case creativeness. The Republic born of the Revolution echoed the outworn ideas of the nineteenth century; it produced no German thought. To find even a suggestion of original German ideas we have to turn to Communism and hunt among the welter of syndicalistic, anarchistic, mediaeval trains of thought inherited from the Peasants’ War, or from Thomas Münzer, while German democracy remained enslaved by demagogues. To the lack of genius displayed by the republicans of the Revolution we owe the fate so banal, yet so tragic, that has been our lot in these last years.
The German democrats of the Revolution go so far as to be proud of this lack of genius. They boast that they put an end to the Revolution by their readiness to give way in every direction. They consider it a merit to have said "Yes" to every demand. We cringed from one fulfilment to another. We placated and placated. We issued warnings against passion, we made appeals to German patience. We could not deny that the demands made by our enemies under the terms of the Treaty we had signed, were impossible of fulfilment, but we tried to face total impossibility by some fraction of possibility. We procrastinated from day to day where we should have begun with a "No." We acquiesced in every suggestion. We let pressure be brought to bear, and not until we had our backs against the last wall, till no more evasion was possible, did we turn to our enemies as they presented their bill and show them our pockets—empty of cash, empty of ideas.
The democracy of the Revolution did not admit that they policy had been mistaken. They stifled every voice raised in protest. They persecuted the national and radical oppositions instead of rallying them against the common foe. If they ever ventured one step forward, their next step was a retreat. They pinned their hope to an awakening of world-wisdom, to some regenerated League of Nations, to TIME, instead of themselves compelling Time.
We continued to do our duty, as we are accustomed to do. We organized machinery. We issued propaganda. We wrote note after note. We acted courageously. We acted correctly. We acted under a political bureaucracy. We acted, as we seem for ever doomed to act, as political dilettanti.
Where was the Genius of the nation? Where was her Daimón?
The Revolution can never be un-made.
A revolution may be combated while there is yet time, while there is yet faith that help may be found for the nation in its need. Such help will most readily be found in the government which has hitherto been the nation’s best protector. But once a revolution has become a fact, there is nothing left for the thinking man but to accept it as a new datum, a new starting-point.
Nothing can unmake the Revolution, nothing can make things be as if the Revolution had never been.
We believed before the War—and we thought we had grounds for the belief—that there could never be a revolution in Germany. A "German Revolution" was a contradiction in terms. German history was a non-revolutionary history, a history of reforms, renewals, reconstructions, which exercised an intellectual and spiritual influence on German and European life far greater than could have been exercised by a revolutionary break with the past. Whatever question arose, whether it was the relation between spiritual and temporal power, whether secular administration or theological principle, whether matters of faith or matters of knowledge, we liked to get down to fundamentals. Here we associated, there we disassociated, but we never really overthrew. All revolutionary paroxysms passed off, leaving little permanent trace. Our greatest revolutionary movement was in Luther’s day, which was, however, also the day of Franz von Sickingen. But the passionate fire of the Reformation "died out in darkness" as Ulrich von Hutten expressed it, and was lost to the nation. The Peasants’ War, begotten of the Reformation, was not lacking in genius, but it had no policy. Its consequences were conservative rather than revolutionary. The Thirty Years’ War was the greatest event of our later history, but it was neither a French Revolution nor an English Revolution. Our later political battles were fought not on constitutional issues but on the question of the predominance in Germany of Austria or Prussia. Even the men of 1848 sought reform rather than revolution, though the existence among them of some revolutionary elements prevented their being the authors of such changes as took place in the Germany of their day. The foundation of Bismarck’s Empire, a state that was the personification of order, seemed to put all revolution beyond the bounds of possibility.
Fate decreed otherwise. We were doomed to have our Revolution after all. And we chose for it the most inopportune moment conceivable, a moment when we were threatened from without as never yet a nation has been threatened. We sought to escape this foreign menace by domestic upheaval; we hoped to evade it by overthrowing the state. And now we are face to face with ruin, a ruin which even those who caused it cannot deny. There is nothing left to us but to try whether this luckless Revolution cannot be transformed from an episode of domestic politics into an episode of foreign politics, from a German event into a world event—transformed, and rendered fruitful.
The authors of the Revolution themselves can do nothing. They have failed us. There is nothing for us to do but to take the Revolution out of the hands of the revolutionaries. Shall we pursue it further? No. We must weave it into our history. A revolution is always a turning-point. The inevitable element in it cannot pass away. That must remain and modify the thought of a people for all time. The German Insurrection of the Ninth of November will never this exercise the force of a tradition. It will remain for ever an unsightly blot on German history, which deserves the silence in which we shall endeavour to shroud it. If the German nation is to learn through its sufferings to become politically-minded, it must see the Ninth of November in the light of all the terrible experiences of the four preceding years.
The revolutionaries sedulously endeavoured to make the German people forget those experiences. To a superficial observer it might we have seemed that these experiences had left no memory at all. A time came when we appeared to court forgetfulness. We had victories behind us; we made no attempt to celebrate them. As a nation we had done the utmost that our country demanded of us. Now we did not want to recall the fact; it was too painful. Whatever the reason, we erected no symbolic memorial of gratitude to our Unknown Soldier. Two millions of our dead, on the Marne, on the Somme, in Flanders, in Russia, Finland, Poland, in Italy, Rumania, Asia Minor and in all the seas, seemed to have died for their country in vain: and to have been forgotten. We did not meet the taunts of our enemies, nor counter their self-laudations, by pointing out, simply, proudly—a shade contemptuously—that WE are the people of the World War, as history will in due course record. We failed to repeat, and to repeat again, that we had held our own: One against Ten. We failed to reiterate that we had been decoyed by the lure of international ideals into a Revolution to which alone the Ten owed their final triumph. On the contrary; we allowed our German intellectuals, our pacifists, to chant us their insane hymn of Gloria Victis, in most cynical mockery of an unpolitical people whom they had deluded for once into political action.
After 1918 there were many men, their names unknown to fame, officers of the old army, officials of the old state, who voluntarily quitted a country and an epoch in which life for them was void of purpose. We have yet to hear of any revolutionary, any democrat, any pacifist—whose ideologies had brought the Revolution on us—who refused to survive the Betrayal of Versailles, because for him the empire of his dreams had set in treachery and self-deception.
Let us not compare what we Germans were in 1914 and are since 1918. Let us rather take note of a curious, present fact: on every side, on the Right no less than on the Left, a conviction is growing, a conviction which is one of the few held in common by our disintegrated nation, that we have turned our backs for ever on everything connected with the age of William II. Restorations are futile things, valued only by émigrés who have cut loose from patriotism but are willing enough to return to their own armchairs. Of all restorations, that of William II would be the most futile. History will do him justice. He is the type and figurehead and representative of an epoch to which his name is given. He was the most significant expression of an insignificant background. He led his age, a capricious and irresponsible leader. The future will judge him more leniently than the present. We have seen the verification of Hermann Conradi’s prophecy, written one year after the last Kaiser’s accession: "The future will rain wars and revolutions on us. What will the upshot be? We know only that property will be at stake, civilization will be at stake. One thing is certain: the Hohenzollerns will march at our head into the mists of this mystery-enshrouded future. Will a new age still have use for them? . . . That we cannot foresee."
If we were to bring William II back to this mutilated empire which he had once ruled as a German World-Empire, we should feel the contrasts of our life even more painfully than we do.
We are an immature people. We have perhaps a long history ahead of us. We have always taken round-about roads to find ourselves. World history did not end with our Revolution, as utopian dreamers, believers in world-justice, assured us that it would. They promised us an earthly paradise in which all peoples and nations and tongues would enjoy their lives in perpetual peace. With the Revolution, with the disillusionment that followed the Revolution, a new epoch in our history begins: a decisive epoch in which we are faced by a supreme and final test. We must as a people complete our transformation into a politically-minded nation: or as a nation we shall cease to exist. From our critical scrutiny of the Revolution we can gain something: from the uttermost humiliation with which these last eight years—and how many more to come?—have been overfilled, we can learn to distinguish what things have been our real loss, and what our real gain, and what perhaps both gain and loss.
One thing we have gained by the Revolution, which can, however, be only emotionally perceived. Yet it is unmistakably there. A subtle change has come over us all. A decision has been reached. The people are faced by problems which cannot be solved for them, problems which they themselves must solve. This change must not be confused with democracy which passes so easily over into demagogy. This change has since the Revolution dominated our public life, and the private life of each individuals. It has brought people nearer together, brought them into all sorts of relationships which would before have been socially impossible. It has given them esprit de corps. The War obliterated many distinctions which had existed, based for the most part on prejudices. In spite of hatreds, of hostilities, of class distinctions, of party politics, every German in Germany feels a fate-fraught sense of cohesion, which suggests that our people is a nation in the making.
When we come to think it out, we realize that the burden that has fallen from us was the incubus of amateurishness which lay like a curse over the nation during the epoch of William II. If he had won the War we might perhaps ultimately have overcome it by our own efforts. Returning triumphant from the battlefields where it had proved its prowess, our Youth might have set us free. But we have lost the World War which was to have opened the gates of the world to us. The Revolution has flung a people of sixty millions back into prison behind guarded boundaries. Yet these events have worked a spiritual conversion and made the German—who had become a slave to his dream of perfection, to his traditions and to his wealth—a man again.
We are a people with no actual present. We possess nothing but possibilities, distant and difficult of attainment. Yet we believe that the Revolution has opened up a path to these distant goals: a path which without the Revolution would not have been open: if the nation itself does not close it to itself once more.
The Revolutionaries of 1918 lost the War of 1914 because their Revolution was not a German revolution. They thought they had done all that was required of them when they imitated what the west had done before. They were far indeed from grasping, as the Russian Revolutionaries had done—more and more clearly with each passing year—that a people’s revolution must be a national revolution, and acting consistently with this in mind.
The German revolutionaries made the German Revolution a western-parliamentary one, a constitutional and political revolution on the English and French model. But centuries have passed since 1689 and 1789. Meantime the west has accustomed itself to liberalism. Liberalism has taught the west to turn its principles into tactics to deceive the people. The west dubs this "democracy," though it has become evident enough how ill men thrive on a political diet of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.
Thus it came about that the German Revolution developed into a liberal revolution. The revolutionaries of 1918 called themselves socialists, yet they did not seek to prevent this development.
Socialism which grew up beneath and alongside liberalism, demands justice. But the German revolutionaries’ fateful Revolution did not realize justice between man and man, and had to look on while justice between nations was trampled under foot. We shall see that the fault lay in their socialism itself, which had always taken heed of classes, but never of nations. There can be no justice for men if there is not justice for nations first. For men can only live if their nations live also.
The problems of socialism remain with us. They include the problem of a new world-order which shall supersede the institutions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: democracy, liberalism, and parliamentism, in an age of technical efficiency, of over-population, an age in which all participants lost the War.
We can only hope to solve this problem for Germany from a German starting-point, and perhaps in so doing we shall solve it also for Central Europe and the young states of Eastern Europe. If we cannot abjure our regrettable habit of thinking of the advantage of other nations before our own, we can take comfort in the thought that the solutions we arrive at will certainly benefit these other countries. But we must be prepared to find that there will be nations in the west who will offer the most strenuous opposition to any solution propounded by Germany, who will dispute with us every inch of the ground. In these intellectual matters, as in all others, we must be prepared to contest the ground. The Revolutionary of today is the Conservative of tomorrow. Let us not push the Revolution further, but let us develop the ideas which were dormant in the Revolution. Let us combine revolutionary and conservative ideas till we attain a set of condition under which we can hope to live again.
Let us win the Revolution!
What does that imply?
The Revolution set the seal on our collapse; let it set the seal on our resurrection.
What does that imply?
We had reached a point in our history when a detour and a new path were necessary. The War was such a detour, so was the collapse which ended the War. Let the Revolution prove to have been the opening up of a new path.
What does that imply?
There were problems in our history which would never have been soluble without a war and without a revolution. Let us make the War and the Revolution the means of solving them.