The Russian Review/Volume 1/March 1916/Russia and Germany

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Russia and Germany.

By A Russian.

The following article was written by a very prominent Russian journalist residing in the United States, who, for personal reasons, decided not to sign the article with his usual pen-name.—Ed.

I.

The present great War, in its countless ramifications and influences, has shaken the Russian Empire to its very foundations, and its ultimate results probably will affect the future of the Russian people more than that of any other belligerent. Many are the peculiarities, even oddities, of the history of the internal political, economic, and social structure of modern Russia,—and they are but little known and understood in the Western world, especially in America.

No other country presents such a wide, impassable gulf between its government and people as is found in Russia, and, in addition, there are well-defined divisions among the different classes of the people. And yet, in this war, so far, the country is undoubtedly united. Here is a marvel to wonder at; but all who know modern Russia can easily explain it by the universal, deep-rooted fear and hatred of Germany. This unity is the result partly of reasoned purpose, but mainly of sentiment. Russia regards Germany as the greatest menace to the liberty and welfare of the entire world, and as her greatest foe,—as a cruel master, who for centuries enslaved her in heavy, unbearable fetters, which she is now determined to cast off forever. Germany, misled by her own worship of State and of materialistic utilitarianism, has misjudged the reality. The part of Europe outside of her iron grip was not ready to cast aside its humane sentiment, its faith in right and morals. Belgium fought, instead of submitting; England intervened, instead of assuming the position of a neutral onlooker; Russia met the War united and determined to win, instead of falling into the throes of a revolution; even Italy, a member of the Triple Alliance which had ruled Europe for thirty years, renounced that Alliance, because its people felt the extreme danger to their future independent existence in case of German victory. In short, this War has proved once more that might alone is not yet all-powerful, even in international politics,—that pure national egotism cannot defy moral demands and obligations. Right and humanity still have their place in the destinies of our planet. And while the wonderful efficiency and might of the organization and technique of the military power of Germany were a painful surprise to the governments of all her present enemies, her iron State system and the general trend of the thought of her people were to a certain extent known. Long before this War burst upon us, their constant menace to the peace and liberty of other nations was understood by many thinking and observing people all over Europe.

The slow evolution and metamorphosis of the Germany of Kant, Hegel, and Schiller into the Germany of Wilhelm II., Krupp, and Bernhardi could not be hidden from intelligent Russians, who are, as a rule, acquainted with the German language. They have frequently visited Germany, by tens and even hundreds of thousands, the older people going because of Germany's many famous watering places, the younger, as students in her technical schools and universities, as Russia herself has not half enough of these institutions to supply the fast-growing demand of her people for higher education. In the last two decades, warnings were often sounded in the Russian press, and, when the War broke out at last, certain conclusions were quickly formed and accepted by the progressive and independent elements in scientific, literary, and professional circles. In this article I shall try to set forth, first, the conclusions to which this class of the Russian people, the so-called intelligentsia came: secondly the historical, social, and economic reasons of the hatred of the Germans by the whole of the Russian people; and thirdly, the real attitude of the reactionary elements in Russia towards the War.

II.

It was Bismarck who said, "Ohne Kaiser kein Reich," "Without Emperor, no State." He believed in absolutism combined with military strength, and upon these two pillars of political faith rested his policy of "blood and iron," inaugurated by Prussia as early as 1863, when she was as yet a small State disputing with Italy the right to be counted as one of the five great powers of Europe. Modern German imperialism is built wholly upon this combined formula. Even Rome at the height of her power did not present such an absolute and all-absorbing idea as does German imperialism, despite both German and Prussian constitutions. The Prussian victories of 1864, 1866, and 1870-71 destroyed the former organization of the many German States, and built on its ruins the German Empire of the Hohenzollerns. That new combination of State and dynasty, by the energetic, persistent, and consistent work of forty-four years, succeeded in concentrating the mind of the German people upon the idea that the State is everything and that its welfare requires of the individual blind obedience to its dictates. Modern Germany thinks and acts as one man so far as the State is concerned. Her discipline and training in this respect are invulnerable. In his private life, a German may still adhere to the ideals of Kant or Hegel or Schiller,—but once called into the service of the State, he must obliterate his personality and obey a power which is independent of any control by the people. This fanatical idolatry of the State, produced the national song, "Deutschland über Alles," led to the famous saying of the present Kaiser, "Suprema lex regit voluntas," and to the most recent motto proclaimed by Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg, "Not kennt kein Gebot." Europe, which complacently watched the transformation of the tiny Grand Duchy of Brandeburg into the Kingdom of Prussia and later into the German Empire, was itself somewhat hypnotized by the marvelous growth of the German power. Still, it often showed its fear of this power, though permitting Germany to attain a dominating influence over the affairs of the Continent. As to America, it is sufficient to remind the reader of the many articles of recent years in our press, which invariably eulogized the Kaiser and called him the War Lord of Europe. He was not slow to become cognizant of this widespread feeling of surprise and dread, and it is this consciousness that he summed up by another saying, "No great decision in the affairs of the world can be taken without Germany and her Emperor." This political domination, attained by military strength, flattered the German people, and turned its thought from the lofty, humanitarian ideals of the beginning of the nineteenth century to the arrogant assertion of new idols: the Kaiser, the State, and the Army. The idea that power alone produces results, while sentiment and humanitarian notions weaken a nation, became prevalent in Germany, and created these new, inexorable gods. In the course of time, as an unavoidable consequence, economic domination became an integral and prominent part of this platform, and in the end, national egotism, fed by State utilitarianism upon the soil of practical materialism, became the substance of German policy towards the world. Germany began to think that she was not only strong enough to take, but that she was actually entitled to, anything in the world that she might happen to want. German arrogance often bordered on insolence. It is sufficient to remember several of the Kaiser's speeches to the Reichstag and to his army, his despatch to Paul Krüger, Admiral Dietrich's behavior in Manila Bay, and the Agadir incident.

Energetic efforts of both the Government and the people, led by identical impulses and concentrated upon identical aims, evolved a very high degree of efficiency in all directions and produced a mighty and a highly disciplined power. It is a machine blindly obedient to a central rule, unscrupulous, and devoid of any human feeling. The presence of the agents of this machine is felt in every corner of the globe. America is permeated from one end to the other by their activity, and no country seems to be small enough to be overlooked by them and their crafty intrigues. The size, the might, the omnipresence of this power were undoubtedly much underrated by the world.

But, mighty as it is, there is revealed one exceedingly weak point in this great structure,—a point which should prove fatal to it. Bismarck, in laying its foundations and leading it to its zenith, used methods entirely different from those employed to-day. He did not flourish the mailed fist; he did not show contempt for everybody else; he had the public opinion of the world with him in all his wars. Although himself the real aggressor, he knew how to make the world believe that he was on the defensive. He scrupulously observed international law, was clever and polite to the neutrals, and, while probably not less brutal in his make-up and convictions than the modern rulers of Germany, was not so cynical and did not show such open contempt for right and morals as they do. He would not have called an international treaty a "scrap of paper," he would not have said that "necessity recognizes no law." He was always careful not to offend human sentiments and feelings, as Wilhelm II. and his entourage make a point of doing every day. The fact is, that German contempt for everything not German, and their reliance upon their centralized bureaucracy and their military strength, have outgrown all limits since Bismarck's days. Germany has cast aside all prudence, while arrogance and cynicism are Hung right and left without need or cause. Her attempts to shift the responsibility for this War, to appear to be sinned against, were tardy and clumsy, and consequently fruitless. Bismarck would have staged the war differently, would have conducted it differently, and the independent thought and sympathy of the world would not have been so pronouncedly against Germany. One of the best concrete examples of this vital difference is presented by the brutally frank system of premeditated terror against the non-belligerent population of various countries, persecuted by barbarous methods. None of these measures has, so far, proved effective in any degree, but they have created hatreds and enmities that it will take many generations to heal, and which make peace impossible until one side is completely crushed. Wanton, unnecessary cruelly, while probably unavoidable to some degree as the result of insufficient discipline in some parts of an army, becomes unpardonable and unforgettable if used as a system, as a calculated means to attain certain ends. In this war, not only German military authorities, but the whole German people approve of this and applaud it. Germany's scientific and literary lights sign manifestoes approving the destruction of Louvain, the bombardment of the Rheims cathedral, the sinking of the Lusitania, the Zeppelin raids on country towns. Nothing could depict more obviously the general brutalization of modern German thought than these manifestoes. And nothing can better show its contempt of the public opinion of the world and its inability to comprehend the possible existence of different points of view. The very idea of such a possibility is inconceivable to their hypnotized minds, bereft of individual freedom. And, as a direct consequence, Germany's State system, her aims, methods, and results, are to-day plainly revealed to anybody who thinks for himself and values his country's liberty.

Of course, this short sketch is only a rough compendium of the analysis and conception of the Russian intelligentsia as to what modern Germany represents in general. But it explains why this War, above all, is taken to be a mortal struggle between the principles of autocracy and militarism on one side, and of democracy and peace on the other,—a battle of a new Roman Empire in its incipiency, and the sovereignty and freedom of separate nationalities. It was this verdict that settled all internal differences in Russia, led the various movements of independent political thought into one channel, and determined their relation to the War. Germany must be defeated at all costs, as her victory will mean political and economic slavery for the world. The so-called German "kultur" represents merely an iron rod, which forces the people to be of a certain opinion considered necessary by the ruling power. It is truly the bitter irony of fate which compelled the reactionary forces in Russia to fight such a proposition, which must have had their hearty approval and support. And the position of Russia is especially dangerous because of this, as the peculiar selfish interests of her reactionary forces would necessarily compel them to join the German oppressors and to make this slavery unbearable. But of this later on.

III.

The internal history of Russia since the time of Peter the Great represents, in its international and domestic affairs, a continual struggle between the native population and German domination. Western civilization and culture were grafted upon Muscovite life by force and in fragments, instead of growing into it by the normal and peaceful influences of science, art, and commerce. Peter the Great was the most cruel and violent reformer known in history, and the hosts of foreigners whom he invited to help him civilize his subjects took their cue from him, treating the people of Russia harshly and offensively. The large majority of these foreigners were Germans, and, while some of them were educated and useful people, the greater number belonged to the class of the adventurer who roams over the world seeking to acquire riches by any and every means at the expense of the native. Their objects was not to make for themselves and their posterity a permanent home in Russia, but to amass wealth quickly and return to their Vaterland. The best way to convey some understanding to the American mind of the real character of these intruders is to compare them to the prevailing type of the "carpet bagger" in the South during the reconstruction period following the Civil War of 1861-65. This policy has remained unchanged up to the present day. For two centuries the Germans have been coming to Russia in a constant stream, until they have come to dominate her State service, her industries, and her commerce. The world-renowned Russian bureaucracy is of their creation. The personnel of the ministry of the Imperial Court is composed mostly of them. So is the Russian diplomatic service abroad, as well as the Department of State Police and the Gendarmerie. In addition to this innumerable horde of state employees in the most influential and lucrative positions, the War for the first time revealed the full meaning of the fact that there were many hundreds of thousands of Germans scattered all over the Russian Empire, partly nominal Russian citizens of the "hyphenated type," but mostly German subjects, although living in Russia for generations. About thirty millions of acres of the best agricultural lands were owned by them, as well as thousands upon thousands of the most profitable industrial, banking, and commercial concerns. In some lines they enjoyed complete monopolies. The electrical power and gas companies, supplying Petrograd, Moscow, Kiev, and many other cities, were completely in their hands. Their land holdings, concentrated on the shores of the Black and the Baltic Seas, in Volhynia, Podolia and the Polish provinces, were doubled during the last decade, land being bought at exorbitant prices with money supplied by the Deutsches Bank of Berlin. There is no doubt that it was premeditated colonization, conducted by the German government, and located in the border regions especially important for their strategical value to an invading army. Every fortress in Poland, and as far as the Dwina river, was surrounded by such German farms. All these people were closely banded together, helping one another. They did not mingle with the local Russian population, but constituted an Empire of their own, with exclusive organizations of all kinds, governed only by the political and economic interests of their Vaterland, and an open contempt for the people and the country in which they were living. Practically all of them enjoyed special privileges of one kind or another.

The Hohenzollerns fought democracy at home with better success than any reigning dynasty in Europe. They maintained the divine rights of kings persistently and openly, and sustained and helped the reactionary forces of Russia in their fight against political freedom all through the nineteenth century and up to the outbreak of this war. The Russian people had no more bitter foes anywhere. Wilhelm I. blocked the Russian constitution in 1881; Wilhelm II., in 1905. They were constantly afraid that political freedom in Russia would quickly undermine their own feudal institutions; they carefully watched Russian internal affairs and helped the Russian reactionary forces every time opposition pressed them. This help was of course rendered secretly, but always by orders to the Germans within Russia. It must be borne in mind that no important state institution in Russia was ever free of the Germans, and very often they were at the head, having full knowledge of the innermost state secrets, and acting always in concert with the ultra-reactionaries. The reader will understand why independent Russian public opinion, led by the intelligentsia of the country, came to detest and dread everything German. Backed by the Germans at home and by the Hohenzollerns abroad, Russian absolutism stood like a stone wall against any political reform.

The nobility of Russia, (who, with the bureaucracy and the black clergy, constitute the main support of the reactionary forces), imported German superintendents for their estates, German directors for their industries, German teachers and governesses for their children. While the French language and French manners prevailed in the upper circle, the whole business structure of the country was German. There is no type of man more detested throughout Russia than the German superintendent, either in the country or in town. He is proverbial for his cruelty and greed, and the masses of the Russian people always remember him as the main cause of their sufferings during the times of serfdom. To these general considerations of the role of imported Germans in Russia must be added the work and influence of the Germans in the three Baltic provinces,—Courland, Livonia and Esthonia. They are usually called the German provinces, although in reality they never belonged to Germany, and the Germans there constitute less than two per cent of the population, which consists of Letts of the Slav race and of Esthonians of the Finnish race. Parts of this territory belonged in various epochs to Denmark, Sweden, Lithuania, Poland,—but never to Germany. Some parts formed, for short periods, small independent states; others became vassal states of one or another of the above-named countries. In the thirteenth century, the Teutonic Order of Knights Templars, under the pretext of extending Christianity, occupied portions of them, and, after bloody contests with the natives, ruled these portions, but as subjects of Swedish, Lithuanian, or Polish kings. They robbed the Letts and the Esthonians of their lands, and rented these lands back to them, somewhat as Irish landlords do. There exists no more miserable and oppressed tenantry anywhere in the world to-day, and the Russian military forces frequently had to suppress bloody local revolts against the German masters. During the eighteenth century, Russia annexed all these regions to her Empire, reorganized the descendants of the Knights as local nobility with all the special rights they claimed, and up to the present, has upheld all their privileges. This German nobility in the Baltic provinces is the only remnant of any nobility in the world which has retained all its mediæval privileges. The population of these provinces is over five millions, while the original Germans number less than forty thousand, with about sixty thousand attendants, who were imported to serve them. This nobility, especially the richest part of it, possessing, through entail, large landed estates, presents a curious social phenomenon. It is closely related to the Prussian Junkerdom by family ties, and, when there are two or more sons in a family, one is found in the Russian, and another in the Prussian state service. As a striking example of this, the war revealed the fact that the now famous German Field-Marshal von Hindenburg inherited and owned a large estate in Russia. Of course, the Russian people always doubted the loyalty of this nobility to Russian interests whenever Germany was concerned. There were many cases of proved treason, a most conspicuous one in the trial of the spy, Miassoyedov, and his co-workers.

Those of the Baltic barons who stay in Russia form a very strong social factor in Petrograd, one of the main props of the reactionary forces. They are closely connected with the imported German elements described above, and guide and aid them in every way. There is no doubt that this Baltic nobility and their special privileges and distinctions at the Court had a great deal to do with the general hatred of Germans in Russia.

IV.

Alexander III. married a Danish princess, the present Dowager Empress, a clever and energetic woman, who will never forgive Prussia the shameless robbery of her country in 1864. That robbery by two mighty Empires of one of the smallest kingdoms in existence was so adroitly manipulated by Bismarck, that Europe passively countenanced the act, making the initial blunder which created modern Germany and led to this War. It is generally considered that the Dowager Empress was the chief cause of Alexander's anti-German feelings and of the creation of the Franco-Russian Entente. Both were, however, purely platonic, and did not greatly disturb Germany, especially as the Germans still remained all-powerful in the Russian state service. The nationalistic tendencies did not go beyond changes in military uniforms, and similar details.

It is the common belief in Russia that Alexander III., on his death-bed, exacted a solemn promise from his son to preserve autocracy at all cost, and, for its sake, to avoid an open break with Germany. On the other hand, it is a record of history that one of Bismarck's strongest convictions was the necessity for Germany to maintain peace with Russia, because common fundamental interests of monarchism in both countries demanded this. Permanent peace seemed to be assured, especially as Germany, up to the time of her ultimatum of July 31st, 1914, remained strictly loyal to the interests of autocracy in Russia, and conserved the sympathies of all ultra-reactionary elements. But Russia is a great state whose enormous territory and one hundred and eighty millions of people have other and more vital interests. Germany, during the last quarter of a century, constantly and deliberately harmed these interests, political and economic, until the pressure was overdone, and these interests reasserted themselves.

Nothing retards Russia's political and economic growth so much as her lack of a free outlet to the open seas. Her geographical position on the map of the world is most unfortunate and has no parallel. Practically all her wars since the beginning of the eighteenth century came about under the compulsion of the search for such an outlet. England fancied danger to her East Indian possessions if the Dardanelles were open to Russia, and for over a century protected Turkey. The ghosts of both Pitts, and of Palmerston and Beaconsfield, are certainly turning in their graves if they can sense the fact that to-day a British fleet and army are battling hard to open the Dardanelles for Russia. Only lately did English statesmen realize that it was a mistake to deny Russia her legitimate demands, but when a rapprochement came and England withdrew her support of Turkey, Germany quickly seized the opportunity, planted herself in Constantinople, and erected even a stronger bar against Russia's desires. Few people in America realize what a tremendous shock to Russia's most cherished ambition was the acquisition by Germany of complete control over Turkey's affairs, and especially the appointment of German generals to command the Turkish army. Yet Russia submitted. It is fully understood now that the Russo-Japanese War was brought about chiefly by German mischief-making in both countries. And when the Portsmouth peace was concluded, the real pound of flesh was taken from Russia by the German-Russian commercial treaty of 1905-Russia was prostrated by the war and by the revolution. Germany took her by the throat and forced upon her that treaty, unparalleled in history by its onesidedness. It contained such tariff and traffic concessions and privileges that within a short time, over sixty per cent of all Russian foreign trade had to come through German hands, and either by German ships or over German railroads. During the last decade Russia has paid Germany an enormous indemnity, a fixed charge for Russia's helplessness after her war with Japan. In 1908, Austria, of course with Germany at her back, annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina, again a complete affront to Russia. In 1912 Germany allowed the first Balkan War to proceed, because she firmly believed that Turkey, supplied with German officers, guns, and armament, would surely beat the Balkan confederation of Slav states. But, when this hope was not fulfilled, Germany promptly instigated the second Balkan War, which left all those states completely exhausted and in a state of mutual hatred, besides creating a new cause for future discord in the foolish and fantastic kingdom of Albania.

But in the meantime Russian public opinion found this growing German domination unbearable. The industrial and commercial spheres were aroused to the danger, feeling the slow but sure strangulation of their legitimate rights. Probably the treaty of 1905 was the main cause of the present upheaval: it was too crude, too glaringly unjust. At the same time the entire German press, always arrogant and even contemptuous towards Russia, was exceedingly provocative and offensive. Thus, when the assault upon Servia came, Russia rose as a unit, refusing any longer to stand this systematic encroachment upon her interests. The Government recognized the imperative voice of the people, and, willingly or not, the German threats were ignored.

The German barons, both Baltic and imported, and the ultra-reactionaries, the so-called "Black Hundred," were certainly displeased with this. But they had only one big man among them, the late Count Witte, a personal friend of both Bismarck and the present Kaiser, the author of the treaty of 1905, and one who was constantly accused of treason to Russia because of it. But he died, and this small faction is now hopelessly discredited. The numerous recent changes in the Cabinet brought into power strong reactionaries, who, however, are without exception of the nationalist, anti-German party, men believing in the necessity of a war to the last ditch.

The first nine months of the war were to a considerable degree prosecuted successfully by the Russian armies,—but they exhausted all military supplies, especially arms and munitions. The bureaucracy proved once more its utter inefficiency and shortsightedness. Last April, when the Germans began their drive in Galicia, the Russian artillery had no shells, and some regiments of infantry at the front had, instead of rifles, iron clubs with which to fight. Only history will reveal in its true light the valor and the helplessness of the Russian army during that drive. Conditions at the front became quickly known throughout Russia, and great anger and indignation were universal. In two or three months of intense suffering, even very conservative men lost all patience with the eternal shortcomings of the Government. Both Chambers of the Russian legislative apparatus—the State Council and the Douma—were in session. These bodies contained large Government majorities—the Upper about four-fifths, the Lower over two-thirds of their entire membership. But under the accumulating charges of countless blunders, mismanagement, and dishonesty, these majorities melted down and the liberal opposition soon succeeded in forming strong progressive blocs, which demanded a change of Cabinet and a ministry responsible to the Chambers. At the same time, great meetings of representatives of all cities and towns and of the Zemstvo (local country governments) assembled in Moscow and passed strong resolutions to the same effect. The answer to this was the dissolution of the Chambers and the refusal to receive the delegates of the meetings. Berlin fondly hoped for a revolution to come. Indeed, such an outbreak seemed imminent, but the Russian people proved that it had developed politically since 1905. Self-control is one of the truest signs of political maturity. The people submitted, and gave itself with wonderful unanimity and energy to producing the necessities for the army. It avoided all internal conflict, and with dignity. Government gun and ammunition factories were full of German spies, and some of the largest ones were destroyed by explosions and fires. Committees of the people were formed everywhere, even in small rural communities, and very quickly every private manufacturing concern was turned into a factory to produce army supplies, from guns to boots. Russian industry is to-day thoroughly organized and mobilized, and even the school-children are at work. The cool heads prevailed; all political parties, the two principal Socialist ones included, issued manifestoes to the people to set political issues aside, to keep at peace, and at work. This feverish activity keeps up wonderfully, and the army is better provided than ever before. And it is a totally different army from the one with which Russia started the War. The original complement of officers is practically annihilated. Ensigns of the reserve, mostly young professional men of all callings in private life, intelligent and educated, command companies, battalions, squadrons, and batteries. The ranks are probably less trained in the tricks and niceties of the war trade, but among them are many determined and thinking men. The supply of men is inexhaustible. And, in all probability, there can be no shortage of arms and ammunition.

There will be no political disorder in Russia until this War is over. Government failure and reactionary provocation will, in the meantime, do their work. This War must be won first, before the political status is attacked.