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Part III: The Rationing System and the American Embargo   (cont'd.)

Chapter 34: The Consequences of the Blockade in Germany

The immediate or direct consequences of the economic campaign. – That the national resistance was reduced by the economic campaign. – The first symptoms of failure. – The growing demoralisation in the Reichstag. – New symptoms of decline. – The German government reassert their authority and discipline is restored in the fleet. – Antagonisms between rich and poor continue; the rising suspicions of the common people. – The state of the German people during the winter of 1917. – The condition of the common people at the beginning of 1918. – The revolutionary outbreak: its suddenness and strength.

The economic campaign operated with varying effect against rich and poor, armed and unarmed; and its consequences are a matter upon which German historians alone can speak authoritatively; for only a German can state, whether the materials published are sufficient for an exhaustive survey of the subject, or whether they must be supplemented by further research in the state archives. Furthermore, only a German historian can decide, whether opinions expressed by contemporary writers, and reports issued by committees of enquiry, are accurate and reliable, or whether they have been invalidated by research not undertaken at the time. Nevertheless, the German government have published materials so liberally and freely, German committees of enquiry have enquired into the matter so conscientiously; German writers with the highest standards of truth and honour have written so copiously, that even an English historian may hope that he departs not too far from scientific truth, if he scrupulously relies upon his German guides. It can, however, be said, with a fair degree of certainty, that no research undertaken in a later age will add anything to our knowledge of the immediate or direct consequences of the economic campaign; for the German ministry of health have expressed the national suffering in a scientific notation, and their report stands like a monument of truth, which will never be corroded or defaced by subsequent enquiry.

i) The immediate or direct consequences of the economic campaign

The German scientists open their review by a calculation which establishes, that, if an ordinary human being is to keep his health and strength, then, his daily food must contain 2,280 calories. They follow this by a second calculation, which proves, that, in the latter part of 1917, and thereafter, the daily rations of the urban population contained only 1,000 calories; they show this to be barely sufficient for a child of two or three years old. This loss of nourishment is illustrated by figures showing the scarcities in the more popular foods: meal is much used in German cooking, and in normal times the average daily consumption per caput populi is 320 grammes: during the last six months of the blockade the average daily consumption of meal was 160 grammes. With regard to meat and fats the German experts have made the following calculations:

The weekly consumption of meat
                  per head of urban population in peace time was
1,050 gr.
The weekly consumption of meat
                  per head of urban population in 1917-1918 was
135 gr.
Average daily consumption of fats
                  per head of urban population in peace time
30 gr.
Average daily consumption of fats
                  per head of urban population in 1917-1918
7 gr.

This reduction, say the German scientists, was the more felt in that supplementary fats, fat meats, cheeses, milk and eggs, could hardly be obtained at all.

The German scientists have calculated the immediate effects of this, by tabulating the increase in the death rates of those persons, who, by their ages and occupations, were most exposed to the shortage. The figures they have produced are rather [672] like what the figures of wastage would be in an individual, who was subjected to prolonged hunger, but not to starvation; for, in these cases, the first downward movement of the curve that represents the individual's state of health is slow, and it is not until under-nourishment has forced him to make a heavy call upon his reserves of fats and natural heats, that the movement becomes sharp. The actual figures run thus:

Table LXXIV:
Germany: Number of deaths
attributable to the blockade

Year   Number of deaths  
attributable to
the blockade
over 1913 rate
1915         88,235   9.5
1916 121,114 14.3
1917 259,627 32.2
1918 293,760 37.0

Figures as to the incidence of the scourge are interesting as showing that it fell with most force upon the young and the middle aged, and that the old suffered less.

Table LXXV:
Germany: Number of deaths
calculated as due to shortage of fats

   Age   Number of deaths  
in 1917
over 1913 rate
  0 - 1   3,506   2.4
  1 - 5 30,591 49.3
  5 - 15 19,920 55.0
15 - 48 12,856 42.2
48 - 60 19,720 29.2
60 - 70       22,890 35.2

The German scientists and statisticians have also estimated by how much the prolonged shortages stimulated tuberculosis, or assisted to make it fatal; the figures as to this roughly correspond with the others, and show that the national resistance to this disease was roughly maintained until 1916, and that, thereafter, it fell heavily.

Table LXXVI:
Germany: Deaths from tuberculosis, 1914 - 1918

Deaths from tuberculosis in 1914 were 41,730: i.e. an increase above normal of 1,356.
      "         "           " 1915 "     44,805:   "         "           "       "     " 4,431.
      "         "           " 1916 "     48,779:   "         "           "       "     " 8,405.
      "         "           " 1917 "     67,860:   "         "           "       "     " 27,486.
      "         "           " 1918
(half year)
"     41,847.

Tuberculosis is, of course, particularly aggravated by a food shortage, because it is of the very essence of the treatment that those who suffer from it should receive more milks, fats and oils; other diseases of the lungs are, however, combatted, though possibly in a less degree, by giving sufferers a richer diet, and with regard to these other lung complaints the figures are:

Germany: Deaths from other lung complaints, 1914-1917.

1914: increase in the number of deaths over the normal number: 1,643.
1915:     "                 "               "       "           "       " 2,489.
1916:     "                 "               "       "           "       " 5,113.
1917:     "                 "               "       "           "       " 15,543.

The German scientists have attempted, but failed, to express some other forms of suffering in this statistical notation. They think it probable, for instance, that the economic campaign increased the number of persons who annually pass the border line between sanity and insanity; but cannot give precise figures. They think it probable, also, that the scarcity in soaps and fats promoted skin diseases among people of middling incomes, and typhus among the destitute persons of the slums; but, as they cannot give statistics, they do not assert it positively. They are, [673] however, quite satisfied, that a number of women miscarried in labour, or suffered from puerperal fever, who would not have done so, if there had been no economic campaign. They give the following figures:

Germany: Increase in cases of puerperal fever, etc., 1914-1917.

1914: 23.70 cases per 10,000 confinements: percentage increase over 1913: 1.8
1915: 27.63     "           "             "               "           "       "     " 5.73
1916: 28.67     "           "             "               "           "       "     " 6.77
1917: 30.79     "           "             "               "           "       "     " 8.89

They add, that, if statistics for the first six months of 1918 are used as a basis of calculation, then, the economic campaign would probably have caused a percentage increase of 14.8 if it had continued unabated throughout the year. [Scriptorium notes: in fact it did continue until July 12, 1919.]

Having thus reviewed particular effects, the German scientists estimate the total economic damage done to the German nation. Their premises and method of calculation are these: German medical experts are satisfied, that a man will die outright, if he loses forty per cent. of those natural heats which are raised by the ordinary operations of the body; but that he will continue to work, and earn his livelihood, until thirty per cent. of these natural heats are lost, after which he will become an invalid. After considering the figures of work done by those parts of the nation that were not at the front, and making all the allowances necessary for female labour, work done by adolescents in schools, and so on, the German scientists conclude, that the work done by the average man was the work done by a person, who had lost only twenty per cent. of his natural heats, this is, by a person ten per cent. removed from the invalid condition. Applying this reasoned hypothesis to the returns of national productivity: taxes paid, national revenues, and the rest, the German scientists report:

      The political-economy-loss, occasioned by the decrease in the work-yield of each physically independent person must be reckoned as forty per cent. of the total national work-yield.

If this is applied to other statistics (with a deduction of one-sixth for rentiers wholly and partially living upon their private means) the final result of the calculation is, that the economic campaign did a total damage of 8,092 milliards of marks to the productive forces of the German empire. It must certainly be reckoned a great achievement that these losses were inflicted upon so stalwart an opponent as the German citizen, converted into the perfect homo economicus by war legislation and patriotic endeavour. [Emphasis here and in the following was added by Scriptorium.]

ii) That the national resistance was reduced by the economic campaign

Nevertheless, it is strange, that these statistics and reasonings should have been circulated over the world as evidence, not of the failure, but of the efficacy of the campaign; for, if the consequences of the economic campaign were recorded only in these figures, then, any person with a knowledge of military history would at once pronounce the whole business a contemptible failure. What, indeed, could be more frivolous, than that the British and French fleets; the whole diplomatic service of the allies; the bureaucracy of Whitehall; and the most talented men that could be recruited from our universities, law schools and business houses, should combine, for four whole years, to execute an operation of war against hospital patients; to increase the sufferings of phthistic, asthmatical and bronchitic persons; and to raise the number of women who miscarry in childbed? As for the political economy loss, the figure is impressive by its greatness, and by the difficulty of the calculation that establishes it; but it gives little or no guidance on the only matter that can interest a historian of the campaign. What damage was done to the national resistance of Germany?

[674] This, however, is a matter upon which the German government have made enquiries that are as careful and reliable, though not so precise, as those of the German scientists; and their generals, civilian ministers, parliamentary commissioners and the rest, are unanimous on two points. The first of these is, that the fighting efficiency of the German army was never reduced:

      Lack of munitions and war material (say the parliamentary commissioners) did not decide the course of the offensive in 1918. Although somewhat lowered by lack of supplies, the physical fitness of the troops was up to all expectations. The offensive was admittedly influenced, in isolated cases, by troops being insufficiently supplied with food and spirits but the operation as a whole was not impeded on that account.

This is decisive, that the military resistance of Germany was not affected by the economic campaign; but German authorities qualify this by a second, and far more important, proposition: that the economic campaign continued its ravages after its purely economic consequences had been checked, and that this sapped the national resistance.

      Many things combined to bring down the German people, writes General von Kuhl, but I consider the blockade the most important of them. It disheartened the nation.

Similar statements could be multiplied; Kuhl's has been selected because he was, perhaps, the most reliable and dispassionate observer of the German surrender.1 The last point established by the German authorities is, therefore, that the secondary consequences of the economic campaign were decisive. As to what these secondary consequences were, German testimony is also unanimous. Chancellors, generals, ministers of state, Reichstag deputies, and witnesses of a much humbler station maintain that certain morbid symptoms began to manifest themselves in the German body politic in the early part of 1917; that they proved symptoms of a disease that spread its infection over the whole people; and that the source of this infection was the economic campaign. A review of the consequences of the economic warfare is, therefore, by no means completed, when the wants and shortages of the German nation are reduced to the scientific notation of calories consumed per caput populi, birth rates, death rates, infant mortality, harvest statistics and the rest. These calculations are ingenious, and doubtless accurate, but they leave unexplained by what successive steps the German people became infected with a blind and contagious anger against authority, wherever situated; and it was the infusing of this anger into one of the bravest, and most obedient, people in Europe, which was the great consequence of the campaign, and the great achievement of those who waged it.

iii) The first symptoms of failure

In the opening months of the year 1917, the imperial chancellor decided that it would be necessary to alter the electoral laws of Prussia; and persuaded the emperor to give what was called an Easter message to the people, in which they were promised a more equitable system of electing deputies for the Prussian Landtag. The chancellor was conscious, therefore, that some kind of discontent was even then beginning to manifest itself. He has never described the indications that most impressed him, and has said, merely, that the fermentations of the Russian revolution were then felt. He was persuaded, however, that the symptoms were serious; for he spoke strongly in the Prussian house, saying that the national unity would be imperilled if this, and several other, reforms were not granted. This history is not concerned with the subsequent fortunes of the bills introduced, and attempted to be introduced, for securing these improvements. It is, however, relevant to show, that, far from promoting the national unity, the measures contemplated provoked heats and [675] discords, which the chancellor, and every other competent observer, admitted to be signs that the evil they wished to remedy was more deep-seated than they had imagined. In brief, what happened was that the reform of the Prussian electoral system was so much an imperial concern that the Reichstag took note of it, and appointed a committee of constitutional reform. This committee drafted plans, and passed resolutions, which were an open challenge to the existing system, in that the principal recommendation was that the Reichstag be consulted in the appointments of ministers of state. This was not, in itself, disruptive, for parliamentary committees are, by nature, greedy to enlarge the privileges of their order; but everybody concerned was satisfied that the constitutional reform was examined with unusual violence.

      Soon after, writes the chancellor, I was obliged to make a dilatory declaration in the Reichstag.... The debates ended with the appointment of a constitutional committee, to whom everything relating to inner reform and revolution was referred. This ended the domestic truce. The words constitutional reform opened a prospect of conflicts between parliament and the crown, upon their respective rights.... Deep-seated, and incisive effects became manifest, when the committee set to work in May.

These effects can only be competently examined by a German historian, but their bare nature is manifest: discussions in the Reichstag and in the provincial assemblies took an ugly complexion, and revolution was then first mentioned eo nomine; for the word was used sometimes recklessly, sometimes threateningly, in the Reichstag and in the Saxon diet. Hereafter, says Helfferich, revolution was painted on the wall by anybody who wished to be impressive or troublesome. Though unexpected, these symptoms of political unrest were not, however, particularly serious; for the most provocative speakers left the monarchy alone, indeed, one of them was careful to state that a revolution would not touch the monarchic system. Nevertheless, such unnecessary heat and bitterness was a bad sign. Germany was not the only country in which electoral reform was being agitated: in England, the speaker's committee had for long been considering the same question, and a great alteration in our electoral laws was decided at about the same time; but the preparing and drafting of the new law never provoked the least excitement in the country. Parliamentary business that was identical in its nature was thus differently despatched in a well and an ill-fed country.

These parliamentary outbursts occurred at a bad season. The annual variations in economic duress had, by then, become regular, and the months preceding the gathering of the fruit and wheat harvests were the worst in the year; for bread and meat rations were always at their lowest during April, May and June. Strikes protesting against the new rations had therefore been fairly frequent during these months, and the German authorities do not seem to have bothered about them greatly. They knew that the workmen could not remain on strike for long, owing to the high prices prevailing; and they knew, also, that the workmen's protests, though generally silly and unreasonable, did, nevertheless, make all local authorities careful to make as good a distribution of food as was possible.

The strikes during the first months of the year 1917 were, however, noticeably different from those of the previous year, in that they were inflamed by politics. On or about 16th April, the metal workers in Berlin, Leipzig, Magdeburg, and a number of other industrial towns, went on strike to protest against the new rations. Dr. Michaelis, who was then Prussian food controller, met the workmen's leaders, and promised alleviations that satisfied them. The men, however, refused for several days to return to work, and at their meetings passed resolutions of a purely political kind: that electoral reform and universal suffrage should be pressed on with; that an auxiliary service bill then before parliament laid fetters upon the working classes; and also, which was even more unusual, that the government should declare openly they were ready to make peace, and that they did not intend to annex any enemy [676] territory. This did not differ very greatly from what occurred in England soon after; for many circumstances and influences were then combining to animate the common people of all countries with a brutal truculence. The munition workers at Woolwich sang the red flag in General Robertson's presence, and obliged him to leave a meeting that he had been invited to attend; bluejackets in London declined to salute their officers any longer; and there were long strikes in the munition works in the midlands. There was, however, this difference between the English and the German disorders, that, whereas those in England were never anything worse than outbreaks of sottish insolence, something sinister seems always to have emanated from those in Germany. From the beginning, the German authorities were much disturbed. Marshal von Hindenburg, the imperial chancellor, and the great headquarters staff, each, in turn, sent their own special warning, or exhortation, to the workmen and their leaders. The disorders evidently continued for longer than was admitted; for early in May General Gröner, the director of railways, was complaining in circulars that were composed of threats, admonitions, and cajolery, that political resolutions were then being introduced into strikers' manifestoes. These official interventions were only partly successful. Towards the end of June there were angry strikes at Dusseldorff, Hamburg, Magdeburg and Rostock; these also, were influenced by politics, and, from this time onwards, news about strikes became difficult to obtain, which shows that the censors were given orders on the subject, and that resolutions passed at the strikers' meeting were not thought to constitute news that could safely be circulated. Also several German papers wrote, at this date, about the revolution which is now brazenly threatened.

iv) The growing demoralisation in the Reichstag

The workshops and the factories of Germany were still rumbling, when the Reichstag assembled for a session, which Germans of every condition believe to be of decisive importance in the history of their country. The business immediately before the house was to approve the finance minister's estimates, and to vote him the credits; and, even before the house assembled, the leaders of the government were impressed by the depression of the deputies. The vote for credits provoked a succession of gloomy harangues; according to Helfferich, the leader of the socialist party painted the position in every shade of black and grey; and it was from this time onwards that the socialists manoeuvred to break their alliance with the government. The position, as they appreciated it, was, therefore, that the fermentation in the towns was spreading, and that they would risk their positions as popular managers, unless they made their conduct and utterances more conformable to that of the workmen's leaders: supporting the authorities was no longer likely to be applauded by the common people, whose suffrages had raised them to influential positions. It was to a chamber that was thus showing neurotic symptoms, that a centre deputy called Erzberger made a succession of utterances upon submarine warfare.

Erzberger was one of those very rich catholic laymen, whom the catholic hierarchy occasionally take into their confidence; and, for this reason, he was for ever moving from capital to capital, discussing catholic policy with cardinals, bishops and archbishops, and with all those political managers, who promote the catholic interest in their countries. In appearance, Erzberger was beyond all measure gross and brutish, and this very well disguised his character; for he was restless, emotional, and unsteady, but very intelligent, and never short of a quick answer, or of a sharp, cutting phrase. The aptitudes that he had acquired as a papal diplomat, and as a bustling, inquisitive man made Erzberger a singularly competent critic of war and policy. He had for long been painfully impressed by the reputation for clumsy dealing that German diplomats were acquiring all over Europe, and it seemed to him to confirm the severest judgements, that submarine warfare should have been declared, while the American government were preparing to mediate, and declared [677] so harshly and abruptly, that the greatest neutral power in the world was turned, almost in a night, from a friendly mediator into an active enemy. As for submarine war itself, Erzberger was well qualified to criticize it. He was the head of a great iron works, and, for many years, he had taken an active part in the management: this had put him into frequent correspondence with those experts, whom industrial firms employ: metallurgists, chemists, engineers, and so on. By his training, therefore, he was accustomed to order, and to follow, expert investigation upon matters beyond his competence. Finally, he had not piled up so large a fortune without being very familiar with the shifts of commerce. It so happened, moreover, that for months past Erzberger had been enquiring into the subject matter of submarine warfare, and that his enquiries had made him very uneasy. He had assumed that the naval staff's predictions of a certain success were conclusions that were drawn from scientific calculations, which could not be disputed. A few conversations with officers on the naval staff disabused him; for he saw, at once, that the staff, who had issued these forecasts with such outward assurance, had never made any calculation that was beyond dispute. It was a shock to him to realise, that the very officers who had prepared statistics and figures, which the whole German nation had regarded as geometric proof were using such expressions as: We hope for the best, or: Can you suggest any other way of bringing England down, when they were cross questioned in private. Erzberger was soon persuaded, therefore, that, even if submarine warfare were justifiable, its probable consequences had been much exaggerated. [Scriptorium comments: what a strange claim in light of Chapters 30 and 31!] The naval staff now made the mistake (very common among men of that kidney) of treating Erzberger rudely and abruptly. They could not forbid him to enter the Admiralty; but, when he did, they told him, that, as he was not an expert, they could not give him explanations that he would understand. An answer to Erzberger's last enquiry about certain import statistics was long overdue, when the Reichstag assembled for its autumn session. Erzberger was now assured, that, if he subjected the official forecasts about submarine warfare to a searching examination, the authorities entrusted with the reply would make an ill figure, as he was satisfied they had no reserves of argument or statistical material to produce in refutation. His plan for discrediting the government was, moreover, much favoured by time and circumstances: it was in harmony with the agitation for constitutional reform, which was, after all, only an agitation to prove that deputies selected by the Reichstag would be more competent governors of Germany than nominated ministers; and it was to be executed in an assembly that was nervous, restless, and sensitive to incitement.

It cannot, however, be too much emphasised, that, when Erzberger made such a tremendous impression upon the Reichstag, he was not attempting to expose a scandal, or to make a striking discovery; for he revealed no confidential papers, nor did he attempt to excite his audience, by suddenly and dramatically exposing an unsuspected secret of government. He merely asked the Reichstag to consider, whether the submarine campaign would so exhaust Great Britain, that the British government would be obliged to sue for peace. He then reviewed the figures, and showed, that, if tonnage continued to be sunk at the rate at which it was then being destroyed, nothing certain could be inferred from that. The tonnage that remained could be more economically used, not only by countries at war, but by maritime neutrals: these economies, practised all over the world by all maritime states, would form a general pool from which the powers at war could draw; and, until this pool were utterly destroyed, submarine warfare could not possibly be decisive. Erzberger then marshalled figures that showed, that this reserve of world shipping, which would be available to any nation that had the money to hire it, would be exhausted very slowly, and that the war would continue for many years, if this were its only termination. The official forecast that Great Britain would be reduced in six months was, therefore, shattered by the most ordinary investigation.

[678] Every individual deputy, and every group of deputies, who were seeking an excuse to abandon the government, now rallied to Erzberger, and, on the evening after his first harangue was delivered, there were excited meetings between the managers of the principal parties. When the main committee reassembled, the government's majority in the chamber was doubtful. Erzberger now delivered a second speech, more embracing than the first, in which all the rumbles of the popular parties were gathered together, and put into a sort of logical order. First, Erzberger broke what little credit remained to the government's war plan: the submarine campaign had been represented to the German people as a measure of war, which would inevitably and infallibly exhaust the enemy in six months. Five of these six months had gone by, and the British government had not even put the people on rations. The campaign was not therefore advancing the date on which peace negotiations could be begun, nor did the government's second or reserve plan, Durchalten [sic] (hold on), seem more promising; for, if a successful war plan could be constructed out of mere endurance, the war would have been over long before. The government were therefore inviting the chamber to vote the enormous credits necessary for prosecuting the war, without giving the least assurance that they had any plan of war, or of policy, which was calculated to end the conflict. A general revision of all that was being striven for was thus necessary; and, if the government publicly proclaimed, that they did not intend to annex any territory belonging to their enemies, or to impose any punitive indemnities upon them, then, the date on which the first peace conference could be convened would be brought nearer, as the ends pursued by the German government would be shown, to the whole world, to be no obstacle to a general peace. A resolution embodying these principles was passed, by a large majority, on 17th July.

From this it is clear, that Erzberger's utterances upon submarine war contained nothing that might not have been said by any shipowner who had turned politician, or by a shipping correspondent to a newspaper of good standing. Indeed, for weeks past, Captain Persius had been warning all readers of a great daily paper that no sudden, striking success was to be expected. Even if Erzberger's review of shipping statistics was accepted as accurate, it was a thousand times less sensational than revelations that had never stirred the British nation, the ill conduct of the Dardanelles campaign, and the shameful mismanagement of the Mesopotamian expedition. It is, therefore, surprising, that Germans of every condition consider that these speeches, and the resolution passed when the impression made by them was still fresh, were of decisive importance in the history of Germany. They say that these discoveries sowed the seeds of a discouragement, which grew to a mighty harvest of despair, and that, by making them, Erzberger gave a fatal stimulus to the gathering forces of disruption. It was, indeed, because Erzberger's conduct was thus represented, that he was afterwards struck down by the dastardly hand of an assassin. There were, however, some reasons why the Reichstag was impressed. Admiral von Capelle, on whom fell the duty of making a first reply, cut an ill figure; and it is always more or less alarming, when a minister who is responsible for the conduct of war is publicly exposed as a stupid, ignorant man. Helfferich, who followed, was not well qualified to raise the government's credit; for he had criticized the naval staff, in the council chamber, by reasoning very similar to Erzberger's. Being thus suddenly called upon to improvise arguments against his own innermost convictions, Helfferich's utterance was hesitating and unconvincing.

This explains why the Reichstag was so disturbed, but why should three critical speeches from a centre deputy have shaken an entire nation? The proper explanation is, presumably, that Erzberger weakened an ancient German loyalty: confidence in the expert, faith in the Fachmann. Conceiving of themselves as a nation of chemists, engineers and philologists, the Germans have always been highly respectful to all who have risen to eminence as teachers or inventors, and the great respect [679] that they voluntarily gave to their military leaders was given, because they conceived of them as professors in a special science, eminent in it, because their training and education had been German. It was a corollary to his blind confidence in the specialist to assume, that German war plans, manoeuvres, and strategy had some of that scientific exactness that had made all German works of learning so justly famous. Submarine warfare had thus been accepted by the German people as a measure vouched for by their national specialists in war. To show, as Erzberger did undoubtedly show, that, what the Germans had believed to be a scientific calculation was no more than a piece of rough guess-work, was to transport every thinking German, almost in an instant of time, from an ordered and familiar landscape into a foggy and uncharted wilderness. And it must be remembered, that Erzberger not only weakened a national faith, he also weakened belief in an early deliverance from an unhappy condition. To educated Germans, the weekly bulletins upon submarine warfare, the lists of ships sunk, and the estimates of what tonnage remained, were as the burning flame and the pillar of cloud, which had once guided another nation from affliction to happiness.

v) New symptoms of decline

It is therefore natural that Germans, who know that the national resistance was maintained until the summer of 1917, and that it declined thereafter, should credit Erzberger's speeches and revelations with a great power of disruption. But, as circumstances alone can make a revolution or a popular movement, Erzberger can be given no more credit than is due to a man, who understands what kind of political manoeuvres will be favoured by circumstances, and who lays his plans with great skill and foresight. It may be true, that the German people showed symptoms of malignant disease as soon as Erzberger's utterances were by them digested; it was not, however, his words, but the body of the German nation, which carried the poison. The fever in the Reichstag was, in fact, the symptom of a national, and not merely of a parliamentary, illness, for, even while Erzberger was delivering his speeches, and while the government were bargaining with the party managers to discover how their support could be recovered, grave disturbances were shaking the discipline of the fleet. For years after the war, Germans were divided by a controversy so fierce that the participants in it more than once used murder as an auxiliary to argument; and the central point of this controversy was, whether the German seamen revolted spontaneously, because they were discontented and truculent, or whether they were incited to mutiny by a group of political managers. As a conscientious committee of conscientious Germans have been unable to decide which of the two parties was in the right, no foreigner could possibly pass judgement on so fine a question. Fortunately, it is not necessary even to attempt it; for it is here relevant only to set out such facts as will show, that, no matter which of the two assumptions is made, the revolt of the German seamen, and its incalculable consequences, must certainly be counted among the secondary effects of economic warfare.

In Wilhelmshaven, Kiel and Hamburg, as in all other seaports in the world, there is a ferocious population of thieves and vagabonds; but it does not appear, that the German bluejackets were ever much influenced by this quayside vermin. Above the quayside population, however, there is a better society of artisans, who are employed in the shipyards, and these people and the bluejackets mingle closely. It is common in Portsmouth for a dockyard matey, as he is called, to have a son in the navy, another son or nephew in the sheds, and a daughter or a niece, who is married to a bluejacket. Doubtless the connection is equally close at the German naval bases; and it was from these artisans that the German bluejackets learned their first lessons in politics. Nor can there be much doubt as to the kind of politics that were taught. The artisans of Kiel and Hamburg were frequently on strike, and these towns were particularly afflicted; for the food shortages were acute in both [680] places, and the population that was thrown out of work, when the German merchant service was driven from the seas, had by no means been absorbed into the imperial dockyards. It does not appear, however, that the German bluejackets were much interested in the workshop chatter of their artisan friends for the first year of the war: thereafter they seem to have listened to it, and, at the end of 1915, the habit of talking politics was well established; for a German petty officer then entered in his diary: It is really astounding to see how every man's head is filled with politics. These politics were, moreover, just that collection of catchwords, which is put together in a modern workshop: that the officer caste would have to disappear after the war; that Liebknecht should be made war minister, and so on. All this was a new state of affairs; for every German naval officer, who has testified to the matter, is quite certain, that the German bluejackets took no interest in politics, until they began to be discontented at their monotonous, dreary, and unappetising rations. Long before the German bluejackets ever thought of revolting, therefore, the fleet was showing the symptoms that were beginning to show themselves like blotches in the body politic of Germany: the strange but universal connection between violent, subversive opinions, and food shortages was as evident in the German fleet as it was elsewhere, so that, in tracing what followed, I am, in fact, only reviewing phenomena that were similar in kind and substance to the political disturbances in the Reichstag.

Owing to the peculiar circumstances of the times, the German bluejackets were thus persuaded by their artisan friends ashore, that they must look to the political managers in the Reichstag, rather than to their officers, for a redress of grievances; and, when on leave, one or two discontented bluejackets called at the Reichstag, on just such a man as artisans would choose; for deputy Dittmann, who was selected, was a man animated by a fierce hatred of anybody who was richer, or more influential, or better educated, than himself.2 The secondary confidant, Frau Zietz, was a woman who had much influence over the half-destitute rabble in the slums of Berlin. These persons at once grasped, that they could much increase the voting strength of their party by using the opportunity thus offered. They therefore caressed and flattered the bluejackets who called upon them, gave them bundles of pamphlets, and made them agents for the high seas fleet section of the independent socialist democratic party. Deputy Dittmann was, of course, far too prudent to distribute treasonable literature to the bluejackets; but it can easily be imagined by how much the vanity and self importance of these poor, silly fellows must have been stimulated, when they strutted about the lower decks of their ships, proclaiming themselves the trusted friends of Herr Dittmann and his associates. The pamphlets that were thenceforward circulating from hand to hand, were, moreover, nicely calculated to blow all the smoulder into a blaze: every strike was elaborately described as a heroic onslaught against the strong posts of injustice; all the gossip of the workshops, the daily grumbling of the common people were transmuted into verses of that litany of hatred, which is chanted daily in the poor quarters of a great city. Deputy Dittmann and his friends were, presumably, quite innocent of any charge of inciting the bluejackets to mutiny; they must have known, however, that, if these inflammatory pamphlets became popular on the lower deck, the discipline of the fleet would certainly be damaged.

This literature, which had been available to bluejackets for many years (political agitation was no new thing in Germany) but had never before been popular, exerted an influence that steadily increased. Deputy Dittmann and Frau Zietz first established contact with the bluejackets in 1915; and there is no reason to suppose that the men who fought with such spirit at Jutland were much affected. By 1917, however, the bluejackets of the Heligoland were repeating all the catchwords of the industrial workshops: Wir kampfen fur die Geldsacke [sic], and so on; it must be [681] remembered, moreover, that the pitiable ditty, which, afterwards, became a sort of marching song for any troops that had revolted, was composed, at about this time, on the lower deck of a German battleship, by a stoker called Werner. It ran thus:

    Wir kampfen nicht für Vaterland,
    Auch nicht für unsere Ehre
    Wir kampfen nur aus Unverstand
    Für die grossen Millionäre.

    Wir kampfen nicht für Vaterland
    Wir kampfen nicht für Gott
    Wir kampfen für das reiche Pack
    Wir Armen gehen Kapott. [All errors as per Bell's original.]

This trash is significant for a peculiar reason. No bluejacket has ever written anything that could be called either literature or poetry; but bluejackets have a folk literature of their own, with strong distinguishing characteristics: it consists of rhymed ditties, which are always about women, and which, practically without exception, are indecent or maudlin. This song bears no affinity to a genuine lower deck chanty; it is the song of a shop steward, or of a local trades union secretary: that it was composed on the lower deck of a German battleship shows that the virus was spreading steadily.

Discontent on the lower decks gathered strength under these various stimulants, and the naval authorities were evidently aware that something was wrong; for in April, 1917, Admiral Von Capelle admitted, in the Reichstag, that there was friction between officers and men; he attributed it to what he called war time neurasthenia. The naval secretary was, however, ignorant of the storm that was gathering, for nothing was done in the high seas fleet beyond punishing all disobedient or refractory seamen with great regularity. By midsummer, 1917, 360 years of imprisonment and confinement in cells had been ordered in the high seas fleet alone. The seamen were, by then, making ready to act collectively, and on 6th June, a whole watch in the Prinz Regent Luitpold broke discipline, and refused to receive their rations; this refusal was not an orderly protest against bad food, for the officers noticed that the men were almost dangerous. The captain of the ship quelled the disturbance by serving out more flour, a remedy that could only occasionally be attempted; and, for the next month, the fleet was quiet.

In the early morning of 5th July, however, the trouble started afresh; this time it appeared in the fleet flagship, for the watch on deck made a united protest against the food served out to them after night firing. Thereafter, collective acts of indiscipline occurred at short intervals. On 15th July, there were disturbances in the Posen; four days later, the crew of the Prinz Regent Luitpold remained in their messes and refused duty. They announced that they had gone on hunger strike. Captain Hornhardt settled the disturbance by an ancient method, panem et circenses; more flour was served out, and extra leave was given, but, on the following day, over a hundred men walked ashore from the cruiser Pillau without leave. They returned to their ship, however, when the period of leave which they considered due to them had expired, and continued to do their duty.

A few days later a sinister rumour swept through the fleet from mess table to mess table: Captain Thorbecke of the König Albert was said to have been murdered by his men. In point of fact, Captain Thorbecke had accidentally fallen out of a pinnace when he was returning to his ship. The real truth about the accident was not, however, ascertained at once, and meanwhile, thousands of angry men were inflamed by this wild story of vengeance - just such a story, in fact, as would rouse a pack of ignorant fellows, who, for months past, had been studying Herr Dittmann's pamphlets about oppression. The discontent among the men again boiled over; and, on [682] 1st August, some fifty bluejackets left the Prinz Regent Luitpold without leave. Many of them were arrested and summarily punished on their return, as a consequence of which, the greater part of the crew walked over the side, on the following day, and held protest meetings at the ale houses along the quayside. It was at these meetings that the men first passed political resolutions: demands for a peace without annexations or indemnities were mixed up with protests against the arrest and punishment of their mates. The authorities were now thoroughly alarmed: the garrison was asked to round up the leave breakers, and the Prinz Regent Luitpold was taken out to Schillig roadstead and isolated from the rest of the fleet. This, however, by no means checked the spread of the contagion; for, after the Prinz Regent Luitpold had left, disturbances broke out in the Kaiser, the Kaiserin, the Friedrich der Grosse, the Westfalen and the Rheinland. It was not until the end of the month, that the high seas fleet had returned to its orderly habits.

vi) The German government reassert their authority and discipline is restored in the fleet

These ugly symptoms, which had displayed themselves almost simultaneously in the Reichstag, the fleet, and the industrial towns, were, however, symptoms of a disease that was still curable by ordinary treatment; for the German government, and the naval command now took vigorous measures for recovering the authority that seemed to be slipping from them, and they were successful for the time being. The old chancellor, Bethmann-Hollweg, was replaced by Dr. Michaelis, and he, having been found unsuitable for the office, was soon replaced by Count von Hertling. The chancellor finally selected did certainly rally the Reichstag to him; for it was not until the very end of his office, that the deputies again became restless. Hertling was a calm, wise man, with great influence over those catholic deputies who had been so swayed by Erzberger's incitements. Having spent the most of his life studying the intricacies of mediaeval theology, and having written a book of the most profound learning upon Aristotle's doctrine of the soul, it was mere child's play to him to make a speech, or to draft a resolution, which persons of opposite opinions were ready to endorse.

The fleet was pacified by sterner methods. When the disorders subsided, leave was more freely given, better food was served out, and games were organised ashore. Having thus restored order by cajolery, the officers re-established their authority: a well selected party of officials from the department of justice descended upon the fleet; and they, having been well trained in the criminal courts, persuaded a number of bluejackets to inform against their mates, and extracted confession from others, without ever going beyond what the law allows by way of persuasion per terrorem. Evidence for as many convictions as the officers thought proper to inflict was soon collected, and the two men who had been most intimate with Herr Dittmann were shot. For many months the seamen were too cowed and disunited to move; but the fleet was never again entirely free of contagion. When raiding in the East Indies, Captain Nerger was repeatedly in trouble with his crew, which is proof that the discontent that had begun with the food shortage had, by then, become something more sinister; for, if any crew on the high seas feeds well, it is the crew of a successful raider. Late in the year, the crew of a surveying ship that was working in the Heligoland bight revolted; and General von der Goltz was painfully impressed by the brutal indiscipline of the crews employed in the Finnish expedition. The evil was deep-seated.

Although it would be highly uncritical not to accept the judgement universally passed by Germans, that these simultaneous disorders in the inner and outer organs of the German empire were symptoms of a disease that had been started by a shortage of food, it can, nevertheless, be said, that Germans may have thought that the disease was more virulent at this particular moment, than it actually was; for [683] it is certain, that the German government fully recovered their authority during the autumn of the year. The Reichstag was throughout calmer than it had been in July, there were fewer strikes, and the army was not infected by the fleet. There were reasons for this. The people and the Reichstag had been seriously disturbed at midsummer, because Erzberger's speeches upon the submarine campaign were almost proof that the war would not be brought to an end by it. The victory against Italy (October), and the final collapse of Russia, reconciled the people to Erzberger's disturbing forecast, because they considered it probable, that the disintegration of the allies would do what the submarine campaign had failed to do. All neutral observers reported to us, that these adventitious encouragements stopped the growing demoralisation for the time being.

vii) Antagonisms between rich and poor continue; the rising suspicions of the common people

It is clear, however, that the recovery observable during the autumn was partial only, for there is no month in the year 1917, in which there are no indications at all of the strange disease that is consequent upon a prolonged shortage: hatreds, antagonisms, and a general inclination for subversive doctrines. The most persistent of these indications is the fury of the common people at the activities of the Vaterlandspartei. This party was formed to check the demoralisation evident at midsummer; and, as a great number of wealthy men, landowners, nobles, grand dukes, and the like enrolled themselves, the party never lacked funds. But though wealthy and energetic, the leaders of the party were dull, ignorant men, for all they could think of doing was to try to revive the enthusiasm that sweeps across a nation, when its armies are first called to the colours. Any sensible observer of human affairs knows, that, when this excitement has subsided, it is futile to try to revive it: all that can be hoped for is that it has been replaced by a general sense of duty. It was therefore the height of folly to imagine, that the German people would then be inflamed by patriotic catchwords which had roused them, when they first marched against the French, yet this folly was attempted at an enormous expense. Even the warlike Ludendorff thought the whole thing ridiculous.

It cannot, in itself, be called an unhealthy sign, that a party of nobles and landowners thus ventilated their prejudices throughout the land, and the rubbish talked at their meetings was probably not more sottish than the rubbish uttered at a British election, when the squire and his orators harangue the villagers. The fury provoked by the Vaterlandspartei is another matter; for, all over the country, the common people at once concerted to break up their assemblies. In the course of one month, an angry rabble at Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Leipzig banded together to disperse the Vaterlanders, and if necessary, to storm their platforms. It must be remembered, moreover, that High Admiral von Tirpitz was present, in uniform, at nearly every meeting, and that the platforms were generally loaded with titled grandees: the common people of Germany had never before threatened violence to people of this standing. It is even more significant, that persons of good position yielded to every intemperance whenever the Vaterlandspartei occupied their thoughts. In the Reichstag, deputies rose and said, that there would be strikes in munition factories for so long as the Vaterlanders were allowed to make utterances in public; another deputy said, that the law of public assembly was being operated to advance the interests of the fatherland party, and this was answered by rounds of applause. Deputy Dittmann, who was at last brought to trial, and sentenced, for breaching some emergency regulations about public speaking, said, at his trial, that he would repeat his offence as soon as he was able, and would willingly reincur the same penalty of five years' imprisonment, provided he had the satisfaction of knowing, that he was obstructing the Vaterlanders. Moreover, the party was popularly believed to have established itself in the seat of government; for, in October, a [684] deputy rose and said, that the soldiers' rest billets behind the front were filled with clergymen and retired officers, who were apostles of the fatherland party, and whose lectures for the men were mere artifices for spreading the party's doctrines. These wild accusations made such an impression, that the war minister could hardly make himself heard amid the interjections and interruptions. Helfferich noted, that it was a new and very bad sign that an officer of such high character as General von Stein should be rudely treated:

      I left the tribune much disgusted. The insults to the war minister, who had commanded an army at the Somme, who had held his men together in the most difficult circumstances, and who was so upright and honourable that he was entitled to courtesy from every opponent....; the wild cries and bluster that interrupted my remarks, which were quite conciliatory; the contemptible hypocrisy of Deputy Lärmmacher, a left socialist whom we knew to be pressing an unscrupulous agitation in the army and the fleet, and who was now affecting indignation at pan-German propaganda, all filled me with anger and bitterness.

Circumstances, were, however, so combining, as to make it almost impossible for the government to clear itself of these suspicions. When the authorities first felt that the common people's faith in them was on the ebb, they conscientiously tried to take the people more into their confidence. Ludendorff has explained, with great particularity, how retired officers, school teachers, and other persons of good standing, volunteered for what was called welfare service on the home front; and, by good fortune, materials have survived, which enable us to trace, step by step, how a political question, then being examined by the chancellor and his colleagues, was communicated to the common people, and how it was by them received.

In about mid-autumn of the year 1917, the German government received an intimation from Cardinal Pacelli, in which the apostolic nuncio urged them to declare, openly and freely, that they would restore Belgium. A crown council was therefore assembled on 11th September, and, at this council, the naval and military representatives all advised, that some guarantees for the future must at least be demanded, before Belgium was restored. Ludendorff and Hindenburg were convinced, that Great Britain and France would, at some future date, invade the Rhineland through Belgium, and they represented, that the great Westphalian industries could not be left thus exposed. Holtzendorff urged the same thing in a different way; and maintained that the maritime triangle Zeebrugge-Bruges-Ostende must remain under German control, as the surrender of this strip of coastline to British influence would impede the peaceful development of the German empire. The admiral then continued, that British influence might be eliminated from the coast of Flanders, or northern France, without establishing military foothold in those parts; but he was prepared to admit, that this vague safeguard against British influence might not be secured at the peace conference; he was only emphatic on one point, which was that a negotiation for these safeguards ought not to be prejudiced by a premature undertaking that Belgium would be unconditionally restored. The advice thus given by the generals and admirals is certainly not the counsel of wise or of well-informed men, indeed, it almost passes comprehension, that an officer in Holtzendorff's position should have thought, that the British government would establish a sphere of influence in northern France and Flanders (as though they were Morocco or Egypt); and should have recommended that a number of elaborate precautions should be taken against this imaginary danger. Ludendorff's terrors seem as ill-grounded as the admiral's. On the other hand, it is obvious, that neither Ludendorff nor Holtzendorff were influenced by the Vaterlandspartei, who were then clamouring that the surrender of Belgium was unthinkable, indeed, the admiral disassociated himself from them in the first sentence of his letter. The state papers presented by Ludendorff and Holtzendorff were, in fact, two letters of conscientious advice, written by two conscientious men. The German government adopted the advice with some reservations; for the crown council decided that Belgium might [685] have to be restored unconditionally; but that this ought not to be promised beforehand; and that safeguards against all these dangers were at least to be negotiated for.

Having by then established the Nachrichtendienst, which was to keep the people better informed upon the government's policy, the authorities naturally took steps to translate these reasons of state into language easily understood by the common people, and it so happened that the popular edition of these state papers was read, very attentively, by a Belgian of the highest attainments; for Monsieur Henri Pirenne, whose history of Belgium has been much admired, both in his own country and abroad, was then detained in the little town of Creuzburg on the Werra. He was at liberty to go where he wished, provided he reported himself once a day to the mayor, an excellent man, with whom he was on good terms. This is what he reports:

      One morning the mayor was telling me, once again, that Hindenburg and Ludendorff were simply soldiers, with no authority on political matters. As he was speaking, a great bundle of papers was brought in to him, and he opened it before me. It was from the Kommando at Cassel, who sent him a collection of maps, crudely coloured, in which Belgium was represented as a road to Germany along which French and British armies were marching: the Kommando ordered him to paste up these maps.... He did so, but without enthusiasm, and in a couple of days, every one of them had been torn down.

The incident is fairly illustrative of the rising distrust among the common people: the maps were removed, because what they represented seemed, in the popular fancy, to be connected with the doctrines of the hated Vaterlanders. This excitement and anger, which was so disproportionate to the exciting causes, cannot have been provoked merely by the rubbish uttered by the fatherlanders: it was their wealth, and pride that provoked the fury; and it is certainly significant, that, whereas displays of wealth and power ordinarily make the common people envious and spiteful, they were now fomenting deep and lasting hatreds.

This popular belief, that all wealthy persons were exceptionally selfish and unscrupulous was, moreover, very much stimulated by the extraordinary circumstances of the times. As has been said, strikes had been fairly frequent at the beginning of the year, and the managers of a number of large factories, either because they sympathised with the workmen, or because they thought that bribery was the best policy in the circumstances, made large purchases of food in the open market, and resold it to their men, at a loss, inside the factories. The government did not dare to intervene, and one municipality, that of Neukolln [sic], started a tremendous agitation by suddenly publishing their correspondence with the food controller's office. These disclosures were much distorted by the prevailing passions; for instead of representing the abuse as one which was virtually inevitable, the popular leaders, in town and country, denounced it as an organised conspiracy to divide the poor people against themselves, and to fill the factories with a population that had been corrupted to support the interests of wealthy persons by the most insidious form of bribery. The government's weakness (which was certainly very much disclosed in the correspondence published by the town councillors at Neukolln [sic]) was represented as proof, that the authorities had concerted with the capitalists to debauch the common people, for the most infamous ends.

viii) The state of the German people during the winter of 1917

These parliamentary excitements, these disturbances in the most disciplined fleet in the world, and these strikes with a political complexion certainly constitute proof that the German people were more disunited and troubled during the year 1917, than they had ever been before. On the other hand, it would be hasty to assume, that the better parts of the German nation were losing heart, when the winter of 1917 was approaching. Monsieur Henri Pirenne, whose testimony is of [686] such value, saw no signs of flinching among the middle class citizens of Jena; he resided among them for many weeks, during the autumn of the year, and they were all steadfastly doing their duty, and loyally supporting the government.3 It was in this condition, therefore, that the German people settled down to the fourth winter of the war; and it is of some interest to discover what they suffered during the period.

All particulars of the American embargo, and of the negotiations consequent upon it, were kept strictly secret; but it was widely known that the United States government had entered the economic campaign with their full strength, and were doing everything in their power to restrict German supplies. As the British people were then exasperated at three years of unsuccessful campaigning - for not even the patriot press could any longer disguise that our armies had failed to shake the enemy, and had often been badly defeated in the attempt to do it - so, the body of the nation was animated by a spirit half peevish and half craven, which satisfied its appetite by belittling whatever was done by Great Britain, France and Italy, and by speaking of American achievement in the language of unctuous flattery. For this reason, and also, because the catchword closing the blockade was much used in the newspapers, it was popularly believed, that, after the Americans went to war, the German people suffered far greater want than any previously experienced; and the belief has been persistent enough to deceive a thoughtful and learned writer upon politics and strategy.4

But the German authorities, who are more reliable, are decisive that the German nation never again suffered what they had to endure during the winter of 1916-1917, and that, thereafter, their condition was slightly, but appreciably, improved. Dr. Philipp, reporting years later to a parliamentary commission, states that:

      The food position in Germany was fearful, ever since 1916, but not so bad as to justify abandoning the war in the autumn of 1918. Nutrition, in 1918, was certainly insufficient, but it was appreciably better than it had been during the turnip winter of 1916....

The German ministry of health have confirmed this with an abundance of illustrative statistics, which show that after March, 1917, the improvement was steady. Coal was more equitably distributed, which was a great alleviation, and slightly more food was always available. The alleviation, such as it was, was noticed by everybody; neutral journalists reported that travelling was easier, and that country hotels were better able to accommodate visitors; German prisoners in England received better parcels of food; British prisoners in Germany were less pinched. In one respect only, matters deteriorated: good clothing became so rare that it was almost unobtainable, and textiles of all sorts were so scarce, that sheets were not provided even at the Adlon hotel. The restraints upon trade that the American government ordered to be imposed did not, therefore, set off the advantages that the Germans secured by conquering Rumania; for, although much less was drawn from the country than had been hoped, what was extracted from it eased the scarcity in Germany, in so far as it was eased.

Statistics of harvests gathered, foods consumed, milks and fats distributed do not, however, give any measure of those secondary effects which we are now considering: the sufferings of ordinary, plain, people, and the depression, anger and excitement consequent upon the suffering. It is unfortunate that nobody but a German can now scientifically estimate what the German nation endured during the last winter of the war; for a good estimate could only be made by an exhaustive study of the [687] baser, trashy, literature of Germany: those cheap books, bad plays, serial stories and the like, which are written for the common people. These records would certainly show what matters were then of most importance to ordinary people; and only a German can examine them and say whether they contain a good and clear, or a poor and confused, record of suffering. I can here indicate what a proper examination might yield. Die Töchter der Hekuba has many faults, but it is neither sensational nor theatrical, and if anything can safely be assumed about the author, Klara Viebig, it is, that she was the intimate friend of many brave and uncomplaining women. Now the state of things to which Klara Viebig testifies is that a dreary, bleak, domestic life was imposed upon all classes of society. She speaks of households, in which there was enough coal to cook, and to keep a small fire in one room, while the rest of the house went cold; of persons, who had enough soap to clean their hands and face once a day, perhaps, and who were at all other hours exposed to the depressing influence of soiled hands, and soiled linen; of men and women, who had enough clothes to keep out the cold, but not enough to check the bad influence of a growing shabbiness; of people who had enough food to stave off bare hunger (though not always), but who never enjoyed a meal that was appetising or cheering; and the gloom of this cheerless life casts its shade upon all occasions when families gather, birth, marriage, homecomings, and death. To me, who am searching only for the military consequences of economic warfare, Klara Viebig's record is more impressive than the ministry of health's calculations about the nation-work-yield; for it is as certain as anything can be, that a nation's total, and with it its military, efficiency would be very much reduced, if such a state of affairs were continued. It is, indeed, to the terrible prolongation of this state of affairs that Klara Viebig testifies: the hope that some relief would soon come dashed by the next day's news; the bleak grey months before any new hope could be entertained; the same disappointment, and the same stark prospect.

There is another indication from a similar source, not so trustworthy perhaps, but still worth recording: All Quiet on the Western Front is the work of an unmanly sniveller, but of a ready writer, who has watched the business of the book bazaar, and who well knows what stuff is there getting a quick sale, and whether business is brisk in the stinking corners of the market. It does, therefore, seem striking, that this author, after endeavouring (and I hope failing) to excite feelings of pity and horror by all the artifices of a cheapjack invention, did write a few pages which rose to the dignity of literature: those in which he describes a soldier's return, on leave, to a household that is practising every shift to stave off hunger.

The very slight alleviations during the winter of 1917, were thus insufficient to allay the growing demoralisation: indeed when the improvements are juxtaposed to whatever else was provoking anger, and even despair, it is at once seen that they must have been powerless to check it. The improvements were that the whole people received a few more ounces of bread a day, that vegetables were slightly easier to obtain, and that no house was entirely unwarmed and unlighted. The loss was the universal depression to which Klara Viebig testifies so eloquently: it was, after all, the fourth winter of the war; the end was not then in sight; and the most ignorant of the people now understood how slight were the alleviations consequent upon the greatest victories. Persons unable to find Rumania on a map were realising, that the conquest of the country had been of little profit; and, as the winter was turning to spring, the German authorities were compelled to admit, that very little corn would be extracted from the Ukraine for months to come. The German armies had, indeed, entered a devastated country, where all the great houses, with their barns, granges and implements, had been burned; where herds of cattle were roaming wild, and masterless in search of pasture; and where the peasant, after stealing the few tools, and beasts that he coveted had withdrawn to his field of roots, his meadows, and his cabin. There was no prospect of any yield from such a country, until a proper government and a police were established, and, although the Germans were in good hopes [688] of effecting this, the operation was long and doubtful. This, alone, which was announced in the first months of the year, was a great set back; for it was not the hunger, but the despair of the German people that the German authorities were now combatting.

ix) The condition of the common people at the beginning of 1918

It is, however, curious and illustrative of the difficulties of following the progress of a popular movement, step by step, that, although it must be assumed that the sickness of the German people advanced considerably during this winter, the indications of the advance are by no means so good and clear as they were during the previous summer. Outwardly, the authority which the government had asserted, when the disease was first manifest, was still being effectively exerted. There is, however, one exception to this. During January, 1918, all Germany and German Austria were shaken by a great strike, which the trades unions officials neither prepared, nor attempted to stop. The trouble started in Austria, on new year's day, when the people in Prague and Vienna rioted for more bread; there were conferences between the authorities and the riot managers, and the trouble subsided for the time being. On 13th January, however, the disturbances began again, and thenceforward politics, not food, was the driving force of the agitation. Five great meetings were held on that day, at which resolutions were passed for a peace without annexation or indemnities; on the following day, the workmen came out on strike in Vienna, Gratz, Styria and Prague. On 18th January, the ministry at Vienna had a meeting with the chief demonstrators, and affected to regard the matter as a bread riot. The delegates did certainly discuss a few minor matters with General Hofer, the food controller, but they warned the government, that the men were striking for peace. On the two following days, all work was stopped in Vienna, and Buda-Pesth, and in the munition factories at St. Polten, Lichtenworth and Roth; and it was not until the ministry consented to engage in a political discussion with the strikers' leaders, that the demonstrators would promise anything. On 20th January the Austrian premier and Count Czernin met a labour deputation, and gave formal undertakings about electoral reform, peace without annexations, and the releasing of industries from military control. Then, and not before, the workmen began to return to their factories.

A few days later, the German workmen continued the disturbance.

      The masses felt (so ran the report of the German bureau of social policy) that the successful strike in Austria-Hungary was a direct appeal to their honour; to extract from the imperial government the clear promises which they considered to be contained in Count Czernin's words about peace. Thus it came about that the movement borrowed some expressions from Austria and Russia; it was, nevertheless, a native product.

The censorship was so strictly exercised that it is, even now, difficult to ascertain much about this great German strike. On 26th and 27th January, nearly a quarter of a million men were on strike in greater Berlin; and a vast number of men had ceased to work in Bavaria and Saxony. The resolutions passed by the men, and the petitions presented by their leaders were, for the most part, suppressed by the government. Their contents are not, however, doubtful; for the trades unions officials announced, on the first day, that they could not intervene, as the strike was political. The authorities in each state now attempted pacification by different methods. In Bavaria and Saxony, the ministers turned to the socialist deputies of the Landtag, and begged their assistance. The men were driven back to work by hunger, but the authorities affected to attribute all to the socialist managers, whom they loaded with flattery; congratulatory speeches were addressed to them in the chambers of both countries. The Prussian ministers at least acted like men vested with authority. Being warned by the officials of the bureau of social policy, that the workmen's parliamentary leaders and their trades unions officials were powerless, Herr Walraf, the minister for the interior, said, proudly, that he would not parley with leaders of a riotous assembly; a newspaper called the Vorwärts was at once suppressed; [689] Deputy Dittmann and Frau Zeitz [sic] were arrested, and brought to trial, for inciting to disorder; and several hundred of the riot managers were enrolled and sent to the front. Thereafter the government waited; and, during the first week in February, the strikers returned to work.

It would be imagined that this great strike, which followed so naturally upon the ferments of the previous year, would itself have been followed by stronger and stronger indications of unrest; but this is not the case. Outwardly, Germany was calm for several months; and neither the German newspapers, nor the German state papers, nor the records of the German commissions of enquiry contain anything, which enables a historian to judge how the popular movement gained strength, during the months that intervened between the great strike and the final overthrow of all constituted authority. Even the officials of the bureau of social policy were deceived by this long calm; for they reported that the final outburst surprised everybody. Some persons must, however, have possessed information of which all record has since been lost, for the strike ended to a grumbling accompaniment of threatening utterances and gloomy forebodings. In the lower Prussian house, Herr Hoffmann warned the government, that the end of the strike signified nothing, as a volcanic eruption was certainly impending. A neutral journalist, calling at the Foreign Office in mid-January, said he was quite certain that the microbe of internal discord was eating into Germany. A few months later, other neutral journalists repeated this in even stronger language. A Netherlander reported in May: Reaction has set in and may go far; almost simultaneously, a Swiss journalist stated that revolution was brewing, but that the managers of it found difficulty in getting it started.

In addition to these isolated indications, there is another, from which too much cannot be inferred, but which is, nevertheless, good enough to deserve record. The German officials were satisfied, that the authority and influence of all the accredited workmen's leaders ended at the time of the great strike. To use an analogy from our own domestic history, the Scheidemann's, the Eberts, the Jooses, and the Davids were like the Redmond party after the easter rebellion: men watching and waiting for news, and manoeuvring fitfully to recover some of their popularity. But, as the common people of Germany were at no time reduced to the political condition of a horde without leaders, and throughout obeyed orders from some source (or at least attempted to), it is clear, that the great mass of them transferred their obedience and loyalty to a new class of manager during the first months of the year 1918. Now it so happens that these new men have left some kind of a record behind them; it is very unreliable, for such creatures as they, who are suddenly promoted to the command of men, from their previous condition of human vermin, grubbing in the refuse of the workshops, are as vain and self important as they are untruthful. On one point, however, their records seem fairly trustworthy; it is, that none of the societies they controlled exerted much influence until the winter of 1917, when they received such accessions of strength, that they were able to extend their operations to the armies, by distributing their pamphlets among the troops stationed on the lines of communications; and, by organising societies for assisting soldiers to desert the colours.5

[690] Such an operation as this can only be attempted if a good deal of money is available for executing it; and, in this particular case, it can safely be assumed, that large funds were forthcoming; for the work was as carefully, and methodically, done, as though it had been government business on the Wilhelmstrasse. Deserters' bureaux were established at Berlin, Stuttgart, Cologne and Munich, and at these offices applicants were cross-examined on their political opinions. Every effort was made to pass them across the Netherlands frontier, if they were thought to be good men, with enough capacity to carry the revolutionary infection into countries bordering on Germany. Less promising applicants were entrusted to an advanced base at Ghent, which contrived to shelter deserters, and, what is more, contrived it so successfully, that hundreds of thousands of men were often wandering about Belgium, at the railway termini, and in the larger towns. Boastful as these new leaders were, they never pretended that such operations as these could have been attempted earlier; it seems safe to assume, therefore, that recruits began to pour into their societies during the winter of 1917, and that the great accession of strength which enabled them to start operations for corrupting the soldiers, enabled them, at the same time, to entice the workmen from their ordinary leaders. It is a pity that no historical narrative can be compiled from the writings which the new men have left behind; for it would be beyond all measure interesting to know how they fermented unrest among the hungry workmen of Germany. The only point which seems well established is, that, after the great strike was over, the new leaders decided to abandon that method, and determined to incline the workmen to violent courses, by sending agents into any factory where they could radiate an influence.6

x) The revolutionary outbreak: its suddenness and strength

For several months, therefore, the German government exercised the authority that they had so manfully asserted in the moment of danger. The months of April, May and June, the worst and hardest of the year, were traversed without strikes or political disturbances, and in June, the government were still so firmly established, that they expelled Herr Kuhlmann from his post of foreign secretary for making a gloomy speech in the Reichstag. On 18th July, however, the German onslaughts on the western front were ended for ever; and the first of the French counterattacks was launched from the forest of Retz near Villers Cottérêts. On 8th August, the British armies attacked the German lines to the south of Albert. Five days later, the German generals informed a crown council which was assembled at Spa, under the presidency of the emperor, that the war could not be brought to a successful end by the armies. After this admission had been made, the petition for an armistice, and the accepting of the conditions imposed, were inevitable. Nevertheless, the end might have been much postponed; for during August, September, and October, the generals repeated, at the successive crown councils to which they were summoned, that the German armies could still put up so good a resistance, that the entente powers might become weary of the struggle, and abate their terms. This advice was given in writing by a group of army commanders, after the Austrian armies had been defeated at Vittorio Veneto, and after the surrender of Bulgaria and Turkey were virtually certain. During these months, moreover, the German government's authority still seemed undisputed: the old imperial cabinet was not replaced by Prince Max of Baden's parliamentary government to appease the Reichstag; but only because it seemed that a government so constituted would be likely to placate President Wilson, and would secure better armistice conditions. There was only one warning puff from the approaching cyclone during these critical weeks: on 13th September, the emperor addressed Krupp's workmen at Essen, and was by [691] them hissed and shouted down. The German government were, in fact, still considering whether it would be better to go on fighting or to accept terms, which they then knew would be exceptionally severe, when their authority was suddenly wrested from them.

What occurred during the following week occurred so rapidly, that it is impossible to regard it as anything but an outbreak of frenzy which escapes analysis. At the time, some observers explained it by the military reverses suffered by the German armies; others were convinced that the bad news about the harvest7 was the decisive influence. It would indeed, be natural to suppose that the common people of Germany rose in rebellion, because they thought that the military leaders had determined to continue the campaign, regardless of what the people would suffer, if the war were continued without hope of success, during a period of unprecedented scarcity. This line of reasoning would be a sufficient excuse for a revolutionary movement; but it is more than doubtful whether this is the proper explanation; for in the few memorials of the upheaval that have survived, little is said about the armies, and nothing about the harvest. Indeed, if the manifestoes and proclamations that can still be consulted record the real motives of the revolutionary leaders and of the masses supporting them, then, one must assume, that the motive force of the whole business was a few catchwords about the rich gang (das reiche Pack), the millionaires, the capitalists and the workslaves (Arbeitsklaven [sic]). This explanation, however, is not complete without a complementary re-statement of it: if these catchwords became banners under which millions of men gathered, then, those men were persuaded that they were suffering more than could be endured, and were determined to vent their anger upon everybody who seemed to be more fortunate than they were themselves. This blind, unreasoning fury can only be attributed to the prolonged scarcity.

The first outburst, which set all in motion, is, however, traceable to its source. As has been explained, the German seamen had never settled down after the mutinies of the previous year; and politics continued to be heatedly discussed on the lower decks of the high seas fleet. The bluejackets were, therefore, following the opening negotiations for an armistice with keen interest, when they learned that the commander-in-chief was preparing to put to sea for a major operation against the British fleet. They determined, at once, to keep the fleet in harbour; the stokers drew fires in the engine rooms of half a dozen ships; and, in a few hours, the crews of half the ships were disobedient. The news travelled quickly; on 30th October or thereabouts, the common people in Kiel started a revolutionary movement, which spread with such speed, that on 9th November, the Rathaus of every considerable town from Kiel to Munich, and from Essen to Berlin, was occupied by a revolutionary committee.8

[692] All constituted authority was now overthrown and the revolutionary movement swept into the remotest and most sheltered parts of the country:

      I saw at once (writes Monsieur Henri Pirenne) that the conflagration in Germany was strong and universal. It soon reached Thuringia. On 9th November I saw the red flag floating over the Wartburg, the old palace of the landgraves of Thuringia....

On the following day the Belgian historian reached Weimar. The red flag was flying over the grand duke's palace; the grand duke himself was a prisoner within; two soldiers, smoking cigarettes were doing sentry duty over the great heraldic doorway. From here, Monsieur Pirenne went to the Weimarian parliament house, where the Landtag had assembled.

      I shall never forget what I saw (he continues). The head of the revolutionary government, a socialist tavern keeper called Baudert, was finishing his speech. In front of him were the deputies, scattered over a hall that was half empty; they were putting back papers into the cases from which they had taken them, and were preparing to leave. They were all old conservatives, landlords, barons and Rittergutbesitzer, elected on a restricted suffrage, but they were still the legal representatives of a government to which they had sworn fidelity. They had just listened without a word of protest to their new governor, who had dismissed them as though they were flunkeys. It was enough to tell them to go. Out they went; tightly strapped into their frock coats, which made a ludicrous contrast with the dirty shirt of the man who was expelling them. Many of them were scarred with the wounds they had received at their university, in their students' duels; and yet not one of them offered the least resistance. The new governor had not taken the trouble to assemble any of the military apparatus which accompanies a coup d'état. There was not a soldier in the hall, in the building, or in the street outside.

The government of Germany was entrusted, for the time being, to a handful of men, to whom the angry masses allowed enough authority to sign the armistice and to disband the armies. Every German in authority was, however, so helpless, that, when the armistice conditions were presented, the chief German delegate reported to his government, that it would be useless to negotiate for any substantial alleviation of them. This was the reception given to the hardest conditions that have ever been attached to a cessation of arms; and, during such discussions as were permitted, the German delegation only endeavoured to prove, that some of the conditions could not be fulfilled, unless they were altered slightly. The instruction finally sent to the German delegates was that they were to make one last effort, and to sign if it was unsuccessful. It probably illustrates the state to which Germany was then reduced, that the only conditions that provoked passion were those relating to economic warfare. It was stipulated in the armistice that the blockade should be continued (Clause No. XXV). When this clause was read out for the last time, Erzberger appealed for an alleviation; and even from the cold and impersonal minutes of proceedings, it can be seen that his speech was a cry of distress. When the article about shipping was recited for the last time (No. XXXII) Captain Vanselow renewed Erzberger's appeal for easier treatment. Admiral Wemyss now lost his temper and spoke excitedly, at which Marshal Foch was visibly annoyed, for his own conduct had been very correct. Erzberger, who was quick to seize an opportunity, even in those terrible difficulties, closed the incident by saying, that the British had declared themselves ready to relieve German distress, and that he would be satisfied if this was stated in the official record. Thereafter, the delegation had no option but to sign; but the more thoughtful of them must have wondered whether any central authority would survive to execute the conditions; for the hurricane of popular fury was still driving across the country, and shattering every institution of government that stood in its track.

1He was Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria's chief staff officer. His Gutachten in Volumes IV and V of the Ursachen des Zusammenbruchs are admirable pieces of work, upon which any historian can safely rely. ...back...

2Read his envenomed harangues to the Committee of Enquiry, Ursachen des Zusammenbruchs, Vol. IX. ...back...

3The Belgian raged at the patriotism of the Jena professors, and represented it as proof that they were mere agents of the state. These were natural prejudices; but if a German of Monsieur Pirenne's standing had been transported to the senior common room of an Oxford or Cambridge college, he could easily have thought that the patriotic talk, and crude politics there circulating were evidence of a close connection between Whitehall and the universities. ...back...

4Admiral Castex. Theories Strategiques, Vol. 5. ...back...

5See the testimony of Comrade Vater, quoted by General von Kuhl: This revolution did not come to us as a surprise. We have prepared for the revolution systematically since 25th January of this year. The work was both difficult and dangerous; we have paid for it with many years of hard labour and imprisonment. The party realised that the big strikes did not lead to revolution, and other means had therefore to be adopted. The work was successful. We caused our people who went to the front to desert the colours; we organised the deserters and provided them with money and anonymous leaflets. We despatched these men in all directions, especially back to the front, so that they might work upon the men in the trenches and corrupt the front. They caused the soldiers to desert to the enemy. And thus the decay spread, gradually but surely.  -Urzachen [sic] des Zusammenbruchs VI, p. 10. ...back...

6See Barth: Aus der Werkstatt der deutschen Revolution. Drahn und Leonhard: Unterirdischer [sic] Literatur im revolutionären Deutschland. Drahn und Friedegg: Revolutions Almanach. Ernst Lorenz: Fünf Jähre [sic] Dresdner USP. ...back...

7The prospective deficits were certainly alarming; for the actual yield, which was always forecasted with fair accuracy was as follows:

Table LXXIX:
Germany: Failure of 1918 harvest:
figures compared with the average yield.

Wheat (in thousands of tons) 2,542, the average for 1912/13 being 4,932 thousands of tons.
Rye           "           " 7,213,             "         "         " 11,910       "            "
Barley           "           " 2,072,             "         "         " 3,647       "            "
Oats           "           " 4,300,             "         "         " 9,117       "            "
Potatoes           "           " 26,407,             "         "         " 52,000       "            "
Sugar           "           " 1,250,             "         "         " 1,892       "            "

As the Rumanian harvest was, also, very short, and as no relief was likely to be obtained from the Ukraine, a terrible winter was in sight; but it is more than doubtful whether the persons who made the revolution in Germany were following this line of reasoning. Theirs was the more simple popular reasoning: If the rich gang could be dispossessed of their authority, there would be plenty of food. ...back...

8See the map of the revolutionary movement inserted in the German edition of Prince Max of Baden's memoirs. ...back...

A History of the Blockade of Germany
and of the countries associated with her in the Great War:
Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey.

by A. C. Bell (Historical Section, Committee of Imperial Defence).