Gregory Zinoviev

Two Eras of War – II


Source: New International, Vol.18 No.6, November-December 1952, pp.323-327.
Written/First Published: 1916 (approximately) in The War and the Crisis in Socialism
Transcription: Daniel Gaido & Ted Crawford.
Mark-up: by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Bismarckian Unification of Germany

(Continued from last issue)

The unification of Germany took a different path. If a revolution from below to above played the biggest role in Italy, the Bismarckian “revolution from above” acquired the decisive significance in Germany.

From the beginning of the 19th century, and even earlier than that, Germany passed through a very long and very onerous epoch of the most terrible national oppression, principally on the part of France. Time and again, the conqueror carried out experiments on the living body of Germany, time and again she was torn up, more and more often her composition was changed, this or that portion was directly or indirectly subordinated to the conqueror.

But Germany was oppressed not only by France, but also by Russia. In the peace treaty of Teschen (1779), Russia appeared next to France as the protector of Germany. Germany, however, became spoils to be divided between France and Russia. During the peace of Tilsit (1807), Russia contributed heavily to Prussia’s disgrace. Olmütz signified the peak of Russian influence on German affairs and of the debasement of Prussia by Russia. [1]

But in the course of the seven and a half centuries of alien oppression, Germany suffered most heavily under France. The high point was the era of the Napoleonic wars and the founding of the so-called Rhine League (in July, 1806). Napoleon created the Rhine League out of a few German princelings, subordinated it to himself in every respect, and exacted the right to provide himself with an army 63,000 strong from the Germanic lands subordinated to him in case France should become involved in any war with any power, even against Germany. Napoleon was not content with the rivalry between Prussia and Austria. He endeavored to create still another, a “Third Germany” (la troisieme Allemagne) in the form of the Rhine League, in order to sharpen still more the antagonisms among the Germans, to extend the dismemberment, and to create a situation in which a unification of Germany seemed even more impossible. The constitution of the Rhine League was an enormous debasement for Germany, so enormous indeed that the Kaiser preferred to renounce the crown. The German historian Gentz called this constitution “a constitution of affront and mockery of slave peoples under despots who stood in turn under supreme despot.” [2]

The cruelest peace that Napoleon ever imposed upon a defeated opponent was the peace of Tilsit. Prussia was, in the true sense of the word, mutilated. She was left with only 2856 square miles with 4,594,000 inhabitants. Even this she got only after the intervention of Alexander I. Russia acquired Byalostock. Alexander I concluded a mock treaty on defense and offense with Napoleon. Russia received rule over all the East, France over the West.

During the so-called wars of liberation that lasted till 1815, Germany offered resistance to France. But national oppression did not therefore come to an end. The policy of resistance to the unification of Germany was handed down from Napoleon I to Napoleon III. Even before the Franco-Prussian war, Napoleon III stood out as the greatest obstacle on the road to the unification of Germany. On the very eve of 1866, he extorted from Prussia certain lands on the Rhine as “compensation” for his neutral attitude in the struggle against Austria.

We have already spoken above of the social-economic factors which must be considered the driving forces for the founding of the national states and for the consolidation of large, nationally-united, economic territories. All these general considerations apply also to the unification of Germany.

The alien yoke and the state dismemberment had the worst influence upon the fate of the economic development of Germany. The neighboring countries, one after another, erected customs barriers against German goods. England prohibited the import of wood and bread from Germany. Germany, split into many states, could not succeed in having the foreign states grant German merchants any sort of acceptable conditions. In the petition addressed to the Prussian king, the Lower Rhine manufacturers wrote that all the markets of Europe were closed off to their goods by customs barriers, while all the goods of Europe found an open market in Germany.

Still more ruinous to German industry was the fact that it did not even possess some sort of substantial internal market. Each of the individual German states set up its own customs limitations, enacted special taxes, etc. More than that: even within the borders of a single state, individual provinces constituted special states and took over from the Middle Ages their own rights, their own legislation and their own taxes. No wonder that Germany of that time, with its countless border barriers, appeared to the Frenchman, de Pradt, like a great prison whose inhabitants could communicate with one another only through bars.

As late as 1806 there were 67 separate customs duties, of which 11 excise duties taxed the sumptuous number of 2,775 objects. [3]

Only gradually and after overcoming great difficulties, did the customs unification of the separate German states begin to take place. In 1841, the Duchy of Braunschweig entered the Customs Union. In 1842, Luxemburg. [4] In 1837 and 1839, the Customs Union succeeded in concluding the first trade treaties with Holland; in 1841 with England; in 1839 with Greece; in 1841 with Turkey; in 1844 with Belgium. In 1853, the Prusso-Austrian trade treaty was concluded. [5] A good two decades of development were needed for the customs unification of Germany to take another step forward, to the customs parliament. The customs parliament provided the impulsion to the formation of the German Reich. After the treaty of July 8, 1867, a special League State was founded under the presidency of Prussia. Out of the 58 votes, 17 went to Prussia, 6 to Bavaria, 4 each to Saxony and Württemburg, 3 each to Baden and Hesse, etc. And at the same time a customs parliament was founded, consisting of the Reichstag members of the North German Alliance and of the South German deputies, who were elected on the basis of general suffrage.

The unification of Germany had become an absolute economic necessity. But there were many obstacles in its way, primarily the dismemberment and the military impotency. Young Germany possessed no fleet and for a long time could not even measure up to little Denmark. The best German democratic poets of those days expressed in their works the wish for unification, for attaining the power necessary therefore. Herwegh dreamed of the formation of a German fleet:

For thine dead ashes must thou contend.
Ah! In them only slumber German heroes
From thine Hanseatic days.

And Freiligrath, later the intimate friend of Marx and Engels, sang in his Dreams of the Fleet:

Spake somewhere in Germany a fir:
O that I could tower aloft as German was-mast,
O with pride the youthful pennant bear
Of the one Germany in the North Sea!

The most outstanding representative of young bourgeois Germany, Friedrich Liszt, spoke of the terrible damage inflicted upon the interests of economic development by state dismemberment in the following terms:

“Forty-eight customs and duty lines in Germany cripple commerce within, and produce about the same effect as if every member of the human body were tied up so that blood could not flow from one into the other. In order to trade from Hamburg to Austria, from Berlin to Switzerland, there are ten states to cut through, ten customs and duty regulations to study, ten toll taxes to pay. But he who has the misfortune to live on a frontier where three or four states collide, must live out his whole life amidst hostile customs and duty agents; he has no fatherland.” [6]

“The rule of many is the enslavement of all” – that was the formula of the rising German big bourgeoisie. At every step in their activity they could feel that the state dismemberment (the rule of many signified the rule of many princes) paralyzed the economic development, led to the enslavement of all, held up economic progress, hampered the speedy tempo of capitalist development. Especially noticeable at every step was the economic dependence upon England. ‘Zu Haus unein, nach aussen klein’ [Divided at home, no account abroad] – these words of Dingelstedt were then on the lips of every educated representative of the German bourgeoisie. [7] In those days the song was born:

From the Maas up to the Memel,
From the Etsch up to the Belt,
Germany, Germany above everything,
Above everything in the world.

It is noteworthy that this anthem came from the celebrated democrat. Hoffmann von Fallersleben, who surely never dreamed that this song was fated to become the Marseillaise of the Junkers, anti-Semites and imperialists. In those days, the song contained only the wish for unification. the wish that Bismarck later expressed in the words: “Our right is the right of the German nation to breath, to unite as one.”

Prussia or Austria?

The unification of Germany became an ever more urgent, ever more burning economic necessity. In 1848-1849, the victory of the German counter-revolution postponed the victory of German unification. This important task fell to the post-revolutionary period. In the ‘60s, it was once again placed on the order of the day. How could the German unification be effected in spite of everything?

There were two methods: either by a revolution from below, that is, by the overturn of the numerous kings and princes and by creating a republican regime; or by a “revolution” from above, by means of a series of wars in which the smaller German states would be swallowed by the larger. In this case, the question was posed: Prussia or Austria? Which of the two would bring about this “revolution from above,” which of them would unite the smaller states around itself? Would the German states unite into a Greater Germany with the inclusion of Austria, or would Prussia succeed in driving Austria out of the German alliance and in creating a Little Germany under its dictatorship?

“Three roads lay open, after the almost-without-exception nebulous attempts of 1848 had failed, but precisely because of that had dispersed a good deal of evil,” wrote Fr. Engels. “The first road was that of genuine unification by eliminating all separatist states, thus, the openly revolutionary road. This road had just led to the goal in Italy; the Savoy dynasty had joined the revolution and therewith garnered the crown of Italy. Such an audacious act was, however, absolutely beyond our German Savoyards, the Hohenzollerns, and even of their most daring Cavours à la Bismarck. The people would have had to do everything themselves .... An emergency situation would have been created in which Germany would have no way out other than the revolution, the expulsion of all the princes, the establishment of the united German republic.

“As things stood, this road to the unification of Germany could be taken only if Louis Napoleon were to begin the war for the Rhine borders. This war did not, however, take place. Thereby the question of national unification ceased to be an unpostponable question of life or death which would have to be resolved overnight on penalty of ruin.

“The second road was unification under the predominance of Austria. In 1815, Austria, as a result of the situation imposed upon it by the Napoleonic wars, had completely retained a compact, rounded state formation. But she was weaker than Prussia. She no longer laid claim to her lost possessions in South Germany. Metternich surrounded his state on the German side with a veritable Chinese wall. The customs kept out the material products, the censorship the intellectual products of Germany, and the unmentionable passport chicanery reduced personal intercourse to the minimum necessary. Just as before the revolution, so after it, Austria remained the most reactionary state of Germany, the one most obstreperous against the modern feeling, and what is more – the only still remaining specifically Catholic great power. The more the post-March government endeavored to restore the old priestly and Jesuit management, the more impossible became its hegemony over a two-thirds Protestant land.

“In short, German unity under Austria’s wing was a romantic dream and proved to be such when the German petty and middle princes convened in Frankfort in 1863 in order to proclaim Franz Joseph of Austria as the German kaiser. The King of Prussia simply stayed away and the kaiser-comedy dribbled away miserably.

“There remained the third road: unification under Prussian aegis. The February revolution came, then the March Days in Vienna and the Berlin Revolution of March 18. The bourgeoisie had triumphed without fighting seriously, it did not even want the serious battle when it broke out. This bourgeoisie, which only a while ago had flirted with the socialism and communism of those days (particularly on the Rhine), now suddenly noticed that it had nurtured not individual workers but a working class, still half wrapped in dreams but nevertheless a gradually awakening and by its very nature revolutionary proletariat. And this proletariat, which had everywhere won the battle for the bourgeoisie, already put forward demands, especially in France, which were incompatible with the existence of the entire bourgeois order; in Paris the first terrible struggle between the two classes occurred on July 23, 1848 and after four days of battle the proletariat was beaten. From that time on the bourgeoisie all over Europe passed over to the side of reaction, and united with the bureaucrats, feudalists and priests, whom it had it just overturned with the help of the workers, against the enemies of society, these very same workers.” [8]</>

Now that the German bourgeoisie had reconciled itself with the reaction, it was inevitable that Junkerdom should win the upper hand within the counter-revolutionary bloc. This left its ineradicable imprint upon the course of the national unification of Germany. This unification, which had long before become an economic and political necessity, was now taken in hand by Prussia in the form of Prussian Junkerdom. Prussian Junkerdom produced Prince Bismarck from out of its midst. In 1863, Bismarck was already at the helm. The “Iron” Chancellor began to realize the national unification by a “revolution from above,” by means of a policy of “blood and iron.” Germany stood before a series of wars. The dynastic element played a great role in them. But by their objective significance these wars were national wars; in them, the problem of eliminating the national dismemberment of Germany and the founding of the German union was resolved. Bismarck created this union according to his own plan. In the course of three bloody wars, the united German Reich was founded, for the Democracy (and the Social Democracy) was too weak to create the German Republic. This Reich bore from the beginning a reactionary coloration, even though Bismarck, in order to reach a speedier solution, had to embark upon universal suffrage, which was to constitute the cement holding the German states together under the hegemony of Prussia. Thus was the problem of the unification of Germany solved, even if in Bismarck’s manner, in the manner of Junkerdom ...


(Concluded in the next issue)



1. The reference is to the Olmütz conference of November 2, 1850 resulting from the conflict between Prussia and Austria over Schleswig-Holstein. Russia was called in, in the person of Nikolai I as arbiter. She forced Prussia to renounce union with Schleswig-Holstein. Nikolai took the side of Austria and treated Prussia only with contempt.

2. Cf. Handbuch der deutschen Geschichte, published by Bruno Gebhardt, pp.403f.

3. Deutsche Geschichte, by Karl Lamprecht, Vol.III, 1907, p.421.

4. Bruno Gebhardt, l.c., p.604.

5. Geschichte Europas von 1830 bis 1848, by Alfred Stern, Book 3, pp.238f.

6. Lamprecht, p.421.

7. Cf. Englands Wirtschaftskrieg gegen Deutschland [England’s Economic War Against Germany], by Dr. Gustav Stresemann, 1915, p.15.

8. Fr. Engels, l.c., pp.685-711.

Last updated: 17.6.2008