Having been asked by a French comrade whether the Russians believed that they could beat the Germans, the gallant Slav replied: "Non, mon ami, nous serons battus à plate couture, mais qu'est-ce que ça fait?
Nous aurons la République"
("No, my friend, we shall be thoroughly beaten, but what does that matter? We shall get a republic"). At first the Prince eyed me, speechless, then, shrugging his shoulders, he remarked:
"Oh, la guerre, il ne faut pas même y penser"
("Oh, war, one must not even think about it")
HANDLING A COAL STRIKEThe great Westphalian coal workers' strike in the spring of 1889 took the civil administration by surprise, causing great confusion and bewilderment, especially among members of the Westphalian provincial administration. From all sides[Pg 37] came calls for troops; every mine owner wanted, if possible, to have sentries posted outside his room. The commanders of the troops which were summoned immediately made reports on the situation as they had found it.
Among these was one of my former barrack comrades, belonging to the Hussar Guard Regiment, von Michaelis by name, who was famous as a wit. He rode, alone and unarmed, among the striking crowds of workers, who—the early spring being remarkably warm—were camped upon the hillsides, and soon managed, by his confidence-inspiring, jovial ways, to set up a harmless intercourse with the strikers. By questioning them he obtained much valuable information about the grievances—real and imaginary—of the workers, as well as about their plans, hopes, and wishes for the future. He soon won for himself general appreciation and affection among the workers and handled them so well that complete quiet reigned in his territory. When I, on account of nervous and worried telegrams from the big industrial leaders and officials received at the office of the Imperial Chancellor, inquired of Michaelis how the situation stood, the following telegraphed answer came from him: "Everything quiet excepting the Government officials."
A mass of material was collected, during the spring and summer, from the announcements and reports received which showed clearly that all was not well in industrial circles; that many a wish of the workers was justified and, to say the least,[Pg 38] entitled to sympathetic investigation on the part both of the employers and of the officials. The realization of this, which was confirmed in me when I questioned my former private teacher, Privy Councilor Dr. Hinzpeter—a man particularly well informed on social phenomena, especially those in his own province—caused the resolve to ripen in me to summon the State Council, include employers and employees in its deliberations, and bring about, under my personal direction, a thorough investigation of the labor question. I decided that in so doing guiding principles and material were to be acquired which would serve the Chancellor and the Prussian Government as a basis for working out appropriate projects for new laws.
Inspired by such thought I went to His Excellency von Bötticher, who at once prophesied opposition on the part of the Chancellor to such action, and advised strongly against it. I stuck to my ideas, adducing in support of them the maxim of Frederick the Great: "Je veux être un Roi des gueux" ("I wish to be King of the rabble"). I said that it was my duty to take care of those Germans who were used up by industry, to protect their strength and better their chances of existence.
FURTHER CONFLICT WITH CHANCELLORThe predicted opposition from Prince Bismarck was not long in coming. There was much trouble and fighting before I put through what I wanted, owing to the fact that some of the big industrial[Pg 39] interests ranged themselves on the side of the Chancellor. The State Council met, presided over by me. At the opening session the Chancellor unexpectedly appeared. He made a speech in which he ironically criticized and disapproved the whole undertaking set in motion by me, and refused his co-operation. Thereupon he walked out of the room.
After his departure the strange scene had its effect on the assemblage. The fury and ruthlessness which the great Chancellor brought to the support of his own policy and against mine, based upon his absolute belief in the correctness of his own judgment, made a tremendous impression upon me and all those present. , it stood to reason that I was deeply hurt by what had occurred. The assemblage proceeded to take up its work again and turned out a wealth of material for the extension of that social legislation called into being by Emperor William the Great, which is the pride of Germany, evincing, as it does, a protective attitude toward the laboring classes such as is not to be found in any other land on earth.
Thereupon I decided to summon a general social congress. Prince Bismarck opposed this also. Switzerland was contemplating something similar, and had thought of convening a congress at Berne. Roth, the Swiss ambassador, hearing of my scheme, advised canceling the invitations to Berne and accepting an invitation to Berlin. What he wished occurred. Thanks to the generosity of Herr Roth, it was possible to convene the congress at Berlin.[Pg 40] The material collected as a result of it was worked out and applied in the form of laws—only in Germany, however.
Later on I talked with Bismarck concerning his project of fighting the socialists, in case they resorted to revolutionary acts, with cannon and bayonets. I sought to convince him that it was out of the question for me, almost immediately after William the Great had closed his eyes after a blessed reign, to stain the first years of my Government with the blood of my own people. Bismarck was unmoved; he declared that he would assume responsibility for his actions; that all I need do was to leave the thing to him. I answered that I could not square such a course with my conscience and my responsibility before God, particularly as I knew perfectly well that conditions among the laboring classes were bad and must be bettered at all costs.
The conflict between the views of the Emperor and the Chancellor relative to the social question—i. e., the furtherance of the welfare of the laboring classes of the population, with participation therein by the state—was the real cause of the break between us, and caused a hostility toward me, lasting for years, on the part of Bismarck and a large part of the German nation that was devoted to him, especially of the official class.
This conflict between the Chancellor and me arose because of his belief that the social problem could be solved by severe measures and, if the worst came to the worst, by means of soldiers;[Pg 41] not by following principles of general love for mankind or humanitarian nonsense which, he believed, he would have to adopt in conformity to my views.
BISMARCK'S LABOR VIEWSBismarck was not a foe to the laboring classes—on that I wish to lay stress, in view of what I have previously said. On the contrary! He was far too great a statesman to mistake the importance of the labor question to the state. But he considered the whole matter from the standpoint of pure expediency for the state. The state, he believed, should care for the laborer, as much and in whatever manner it deemed proper; he would not admit of any co-operation of the workers in this. Agitation and rebellion, he believed, should be severely suppressed; by force of arms, if necessary. Government protection on the one hand, the mailed fist on the other—that was Bismarck's social policy.
I, however, wished to win over the soul of the German workingman, and I fought zealously to attain this goal. I was filled with the consciousness of a plain duty and responsibility toward my entire people—also, therefore, toward the laboring classes. What was theirs by right and justice should become theirs, I thought; moreover, I believed that this should be brought about, wherever the will or power of the employers ceased, by the lord of the land and his Government, in so far as justice or necessity demanded. As soon as I had recognized the necessity for reforms, to[Pg 42] some of which the industrial elements would not consent, I took up the cudgels for the laboring classes, impelled by a sense of justice.
I had studied history sufficiently to guard myself against the delusion of believing in the possibility of making an entire people happy. I realized clearly that it was impossible for one human being to make a nation happy. The truth is that the only nation which is happy is the one that is contented, or at least is willing to be contented; a willingness which implies a certain degree of realization of what is possible—a sense of the practical, in short. Unfortunately, there is often a lack of this.
I was well aware that, in the unbounded demands of the Socialist leaders, unjustified greed would be constantly developed anew. But, for the very reason that I wished to be able to combat unjustified aspirations with a clear conscience and in a convincing way, it behooved me not to deny recognition and aid to justified aspirations.
GERMAN SOCIAL PROBLEMSThe policy that kept in view the welfare of the workers unquestionably imposed a heavy burden upon all the industrial elements of Germany in the matter of competition in the world market, through the well-known laws for the protection of workingmen. This was especially true in relation to an industrial system like the Belgian, which could, without hindrance, squeeze the last drop out of the human reserves of Belgium and pay[Pg 43] low wages, without feeling any pangs of conscience or compassion for the sinking morale of the exhausted, unprotected people. By means of my social legislation I made such conditions impossible in Germany, and I caused it to be introduced also in Belgium, during the war, by General von Bissing, in order to promote the welfare of the Belgian workers. First of all, however, this legislation is—to use a sporting term—a handicap upon German industry in the battle of world competition: it alienated many big leaders of industry, which, from their point of view, was quite natural. But the lord of the land must always bear in mind the welfare of the whole nation; therefore, I went my way unswervingly.
Those workers, on the other hand, who blindly followed the Socialist leaders, gave me no word of thanks for the protection created for them nor for the work I had done. Between them and me lies the motto of the Hohenzollerns, "Suum cuique." That means, "To each his own"—not, as the Social Democrats would have it, "To everyone the same!"
I also harbored the idea of preventing to some extent competitive warfare, at least in the industrial world of the European continent, by bringing about a sort of quota-fixing in foreign lands, thereby facilitating production and making possible a healthier mode of life among the working classes.
There is great significance in the impression which foreign workers get in studying Germany's social legislation. A few years before the war people[Pg 44] in England, under the pressure of labor troubles, awoke to the conviction that better care must be taken of the workers. As a result of this, commissions visited Germany, some of them composed of workingmen. Guided by representative Germans, among them Socialists, they visited the industrial regions, factories, benevolent institutions, sanatoria of insurance companies, etc., and were astonished at all the things they saw. At the farewell dinner given them the English leader of the workingmen's deputation turned to Bebel and made this concluding remark:
"After all we have seen of what is done in Germany for the workers, I ask you: Are you people still Socialists?" And the Englishmen remarked to a German that they would be quite satisfied if they could succeed, after long fights in Parliament, in putting through one tenth of what had already been accomplished years before in Germany toward bettering the condition of the laboring classes.
I had observed with interest these visits of the English deputations and marveled at their ignorance of German conditions. But I marveled even more at a question asked by the English Government, through the channel of the English Embassy, on the same subject, which betrayed an absolutely amazing lack of knowledge of the progress made in Germany in the province of social reform. I questioned the English ambassador, remarking that England, having been represented in 1890 at the Berlin Social Congress, must certainly have[Pg 45] been informed, at least through the Embassy, of the Reichstag debates, which had dealt in a detailed way with the various social measures. The ambassador replied that the same thing had also occurred to him and caused him to have the earlier records of the Embassy investigated, whereupon it had transpired that the Embassy had sent the fullest reports on the subject to London and that thorough reports had been forwarded home concerning every important stage in the progress of social reform; but, "because they came from Germany, nobody ever read them; they were simply pigeon-holed and remained there ever since; it is a downright shame; Germany does not interest people at home."
Thus the Briton, with a shrug of his shoulders. Neither the British King nor Parliament had enough conscience or time or desire to work for the betterment of the working class. The "policy of encirclement" for the annihilation of Germany, especially of its industry, and, thereby, of its working population, was, in their eyes, far more important and rewarding. On the 9th of November (1918) the German Radical Socialist leaders, with their like-minded followers, joined forces with this British policy of annihilation.
"WELFARE WORK" AT THE COURTIn a small way, in places where I had influence, as, for instance, in the administration of my court and in the Imperial Automobile Club, I laid stress upon the social point of view. For instance, I[Pg 46] caused a fund to be established, out of the tips paid for visiting palaces, which was destined solely to the benefit of the domestic staff, and which, in the course of time, reached a magnificent total. From this fund the domestics and their families received money for trips to bathing resorts, cost of taking cures, burial expenses, dowries for their children, confirmation expenses, and similar payments.
When I, at the request of the newly founded Imperial Automobile Club, took it under my protection, I accepted an invitation to a luncheon in the beautiful rooms of the clubhouse, built by Ihne. In addition to magnates like the Duke of Ratibor, the Duke of Ujest, etc., I found there a number of gentlemen from Berlin's high financial circles, some of whom behaved rather wildly. When the conversation turned to the subject of drivers, I suggested establishing a fund which, in case of accident, illness, or death befalling these men, should provide means of livelihood for those whom they left behind. The suggestion met with unanimous approval, and the fund has had most excellent results. Later on I brought about the establishment of something similar for the skippers and pilots attached to the Imperial Yacht Club at Kiel.
Special pleasure was afforded me by the Kaiser Wilhelm Children's Home, founded by me at Ahlbeck, at which, in peace times, between May and the end of September in each year, a large number of children from the most poverty-stricken working people's districts in Berlin were accommodated[Pg 47] in successive detachments, each lot staying four weeks. This home is still under the tried direction of the admirable superintendent, Miss Kirschner, daughter of the former Chief Burgomaster of Berlin, and it has achieved most brilliant results, both in the physical and the psychical domain. Weakened, pale, needy children were transformed there into fresh, blooming, happy little beings, concerning whose welfare I often joyfully convinced myself by personal visits.
For the very reason that I have spoken of my quarrel with Bismarck as a result of labor questions, I wish to add to what I have already said about his basic position in the matter—an example showing how brilliantly the Prince behaved in something that concerned the workers. In this, to be sure, he was impelled by nationalistic motives, but he also realized at once that it was necessary to protect a large element against unemployment, which caused him to intervene with the full weight of his authority.
Sometime around 1886, while I was still Prince Wilhelm, I had learned that the great Vulcan shipping concern at Stettin was confronted, owing to lack of orders, with bankruptcy, and its entire force of workmen, numbering many thousands, with starvation, which would mean a catastrophe for the city of Stettin. Only by an order for the building of a big ship could the Vulcan shipyards be saved.
Spurred on some time before by Admiral von Stosch, who wished to free us once and for all[Pg 48] from the English shipbuilders, the Vulcan people had set to work courageously to build the first German armored ship, christened by my mother in 1874 on her birthday, on which occasion I was present. Ever since that time the warships built at the Vulcan yards had always satisfied naval experts—the concern, however, seldom built warships.
THE CHANCELLOR IN ACTIONThe German merchant marine, on the other hand, had not dared to follow the path courageously blazed by Admiral von Stosch. And now the brave German shipyard company was faced with ruin, since the North German Lloyd had refused its offer to build a passenger steamer, alleging that the English, because of their years of shipbuilding traditions, could build it better. It was a serious emergency. I hastened to Prince Bismarck and laid before him the matter as I have described it above.
The Chancellor was furious; his eyes flashed, his fist came crashing down on the table.
"What! Do you mean to say that these shopkeepers would rather have their boats built in England than in Germany? Why, that is unheard of! And is a good German shipyard to fail for such a reason? The devil take this gang of traders!"
He rang the bell and a servant entered.
"Have Privy Councilor X come here immediately from the Foreign Office!"
In a few minutes—during which the Prince[Pg 49] stamped up and down the room—the man summoned appeared.
"Telegram to Hamburg, to our envoy—the Lloyd in Bremen is to have its new ship built by the Vulcan Company in Stettin!"
The Privy Councilor vanished in hot haste, "with his coat tails sticking straight out behind him." The Prince turned to me and said: "I am greatly obliged to you. You have done the fatherland, and also myself, an important service. Henceforth ships will be built only in our yards—I'll take care to make this clear to the Hanseatic crowd. You may telegraph to the Vulcan people that the Chancellor will guarantee that the ship will be built in the Vulcan yards. May this be the first of a whole lot of such ships! As for the workers whom you have thus saved from unemployment, I hope that they will express their thanks to you!"
I passed on the news to Privy Councilor Schlutow at Stettin and great was the joy caused thereby. This was the first step upon the road destined to lead to the construction of the magnificent German express steamers.
When I went, after I had ascended the throne in 1888, to Stettin, in order to place honorary insignia on the flags of my Pomeranian Grenadiers, I also visited the Vulcan shipyards, at the invitation of the directors. After my reception by the directors outside the yards, the great doors were flung open and I walked inside. But, instead of work and pounding hammers, I found deep silence.[Pg 50] The entire body of workmen was standing in a half circle, with bared heads; in the middle stood the oldest workman of all, a man with a snow-white beard, bearing a laurel wreath in his hand.
I was deeply moved. Schlutow whispered to me: "A little pleasure for you, which the workmen themselves have thought up." The old workman stepped forward and, in pithy, plain words, expressed to me the gratitude of the workmen to me for having saved them, and, above all, their wives and children, from hardship and hunger, by my appeal to Bismarck about the building of the ship. As a token of their gratitude, he asked my permission to hand over the laurel wreath. Most deeply moved, I took the wreath and expressed my pleasure at receiving my first laurels, without the shedding of a drop of blood, from the hands of honest German workmen.
That was in the year 1888! In those days, the German laboring classes knew how to appreciate the blessing of labor.