Germany's Crisis — Its Effect on Labor — Part I
The present crisis in German politics is important from the point of view of labor. Indeed labor has perhaps more at stake in the war than any other element of society.
There seems to be a change of policy in the relations of social democrats and the German government. The democratizing of Germany is impossible so long as the present German government is free to pursue its policy of militarism by throwing its sop of social reform to the laboring men. The interests of American laboring men are wholly in the energetic pushing of the war in order to counteract the policy of the present German government. For unless the German people are made to feel that the present autocracy has failed, the war will leave democracy in Germany about where it found it.
It is too early to form a judgment upon the course of popular movement in Germany. A majority bloc in the reichstag is demanding a peace close enough to that of the Russian formula to be regarded almost as a German translation of the new Slavic democracy. It is demanding such a parliamentary government in the empire as would give the German people the commanding voice in the determination of war and peace.
The popular movement has been so pronounced that even the emperor himself revised his former project of electoral reform in Prussian and directed the chancellor to present to the Prussian diet the outline of a law giving equal secret suffrage in place of the present three-class system which misrepresents the people of Prussia in its legislature today. This is the most fundamental attack yet delivered upon that Prussianism which all Europe and all the world are fighting.
Nor do these popular expressions fail to answer to the most characteristic note which America has given, viz., that demanding a plan for the settlement of disputes between nations by an international agency backed by the force of the organized nations of the world. This is a new attitude among the German people which must be carefully distinguished from the program of the social democrats early in the war.
If the German government would accept renunciation of annexation, the popularization of her government along the lines indicated both in the Prussian diet and the imperial reichstag, there would still remain the rehabilitation of Belgium and Serbia as the necessary preconditions to the discussion of the other great category of issues, the national aspirations of subject peoples and those caught in the maelstrom of the war, those of the Balkan communities, of the Poles, of Alsace and Lorraine and of the subject populations in Austria-Hungary itself.
However, the expressions of the leading statesmen of all the allied powers have without exception placed popular control within the German government as the most important goal to be sought in this war. If this could be attained the other conditions of peace are felt to be likely to follow as logical corollaries. It is insurance against the recurrence of the hideous struggle through which Europe has been fighting during these three dark years that is the deepest prayer of the peoples that are fighting the war, and with one consent it is recognized that only in the people's control of their governments can that insurance be sought.
This issue has been slowly fashioning itself in the development of the great conflict. Two great factors have been responsible for its sharper outline as the struggle has advanced. The first has been the reflection of the men in the trenches and the peoples that have sent them there, the reflection that such an enormous sacrifice must demand the result of terminating war itself. Never has the common soldier been so capable of reflection as he is today, and as the needle of his judgment has come to a rest it has been found in all the countries pointing toward the popular control of the issues of life and death in the conduct of the nation.
The second factor has been the formulations given by Russian and American democracies as they entered the war. For democratic Russia has come into the war as a new factor, with a new point of view and a new goal. She could not fight the war of her discarded autocracy. She was compelled to fight a democracy's fight. She had no imperialistic aims. She could not make conventional national prestige a justification of slaughter. The invasion of the right of self-conscious peoples to live their own lives could be the only causus belli. Annexations are national murders, and punitive indemnities differ from them only in seeking to enfeeble where forcible annexations kill.
That the people of Russia have had the power and the right to put their formula for peace authoritatively before the world has had a profound influence on the German people. And America has come with her declaration of the rights of the governed to determine their government and especially with their demand that out of the war must come an organized method of dealing with international disputes to forfend wars.
These are issues for which democracies can fight. They are issues for which democracies must fight when challenged by a military autocracy that finds the masses of its own people subservient to the control over national policy by a sovereign monarch.