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Posts Tagged ‘theodor plivier’

“The leaders of the Storm Detachments-a dozen or so metal workers from the Berlin heavy
industries, whose business it is to organize the fighting squads of the Revolutionaries and to lead
them on -the day of the revolution-have already reached the last item on their agenda. Some are
standing, others seated on garden chairs around a table in the cheerless skittle-alley of a workers’
tavern. When Primelsack enters, the discussion is interrupted.

Primelsack immediately makes his report.

“All O.K. – Ernst has gone over to headquarters in Schicklerstrasse. Uprooted a tree fifteen
inches across! And twigs and branches fell from the other trees over a radius of thirty yards.”

“Boy, but she did make a hole!”
“A thing like that landing plumb on a column…”
”It’s not possible, of course, to pitch it from the street level. We’ll have to get into the houses and throw from the upper windows,” says the leader of the group, a brawny, black-haired fitter.
“What if the people won’t let us into the houses?”
“We must get in. If they refuse, then we must smash in the doors, that’s all.”
“How long does it take to go off?”

“Count to six and then heave it.”
”A hand-grenade takes five, though, doesn’t it?”
“This won’t go off before eight. With our first fuse it took sixteen, but now it’s eight.”
“And how many of them have we?”
“Sixty at present, with explosive for more.”

 The chairman returns to the last point on the agenda and talks with a few of the comrades about the issuing of the stock of revolvers, hand-grenades and ammunition. The rest occupy themselves discussing the progress of the movement in their several factories; new recruits for the fighting squads; their president, Emil Barth; and the likelihood of an early outbreak. A turner from the Kombusch Factory, the Revolutionary Oestreich, is telling Primelsack
how he took a case of rifle ammunition to one of their colleagues at Weissensee.

“You know what a
case looks like of course-like a box of herrings, except that it has handles at both ends. Well, I got
my brother Richard-! knew I could trust him-and then we took the box just as it was, without
wrapping it up or anything, went straight to the station, got into a train and just took it as if it were
any harmless parcel. I don’t understand now how it came off without a hitch, or how we could even
have thought of doing such a thing….”

Oestreich is instancing this casualness and assurance in
taking the thing openly by train under the very eyes of the other passengers as an example of how
blind faith is more important to success than the most deliberate and long-thought-out preparations:

“Go straight at it, that’s always the best way. I simply said to Richard: ‘Have you got your
Browning?’ ‘Sure,’ says he, ‘here in my trouser-pocket. I’ve only to slip the safety-catch and she’s
ready to pump.’”

“It is time we were going over to Schicklerstrasse, comrades.”

Some are already on the stairs, making their way up into the bar.

There they split up, leaving the house casually one and two at a time.

 At No. 5 Schicklerstrasse, on the second floor giving on the courtyard, tucked away among tailoring establishments, hat-makers and paper-bag manufacturers, are the rooms of the training
school of the Independent Socialist Party, the USP In one of the rooms some forty workmen are
wedged in between the narrow school benches. Twenty more are standing round the walls. The
members of the Storm Detachments, arriving one by one, also have to stand.

This is the full session of the Revolutionaries.

The Revolutionaries it was who led the Berlin workers in the strike of January, 1918, protesting
against the iniquitous peace of Brest-Litowsk, and calling for an end to be put to the war on terms of
no annexations and no reparations. This movement developed into the first concerted effort against
the imperialism of the government – then the bureaucrats of the Unions got the upper hand, and
Ebert, Scheidemann and Bauer – all of them members of the Reichstag – took over leadership of the
strike, and under their direction the fight was turned into negotiation. The Minister for the Interior,
who was willing to treat only with the parliamentarians, would have no dealings with the workers
themselves and placed a ban on all mass meetings. The General Officer Commanding the Marches
put Berlin under strict martial law and set up an emergency military tribunal.

Four hundred thousand workers had obeyed the order to strike. After the collapse of the strike
two hundred were imprisoned and forty thousand sent up to the trenches.

After that first failure eighteen of the leaders had come together to rebuild the organization.
Richard Müller, the president, had been called up by the military. But to the first meeting he
brought with him Emil Barth who, on Müller’s departure, assumed the leadership of the
Revolutionary Organization.

Emil Barth is now seated at the teacher’s desk.

He is listening to the chief of the Storm Detachment leaders who is reporting to him on the
findings of the meeting which has just been concluded.

Barth has a different appearance from that of the metal workers seated on the benches. They are
thickset, slow of speech and movement. Barth on the other hand loves fine phrases and will miss no
opportunity for a speech. Richard Müller introduced him to the circle at a time when it was
impossible to have as secretary any man already known to the police on account of his political
activities. Müller later nicknamed him “the windbag”; Haase diagnosed him as a braggart;
Liebknecht, as a “mad revolutionary dilettante”; Duncker of the Spartacist League, as a
“pathological case of a man striving for power out of a sense of inferiority”. But Barth countered all
abuse by denouncing the rest as “the highbrow generals of the workers’ movement”, who sat all day
at their writing-desks apart from the world and had not the faintest idea how revolutions are made.
When he first joined the Revolutionaries he walked with the aid of two sticks and gave himself out
as a shell-shock case. But he is shell-shocked no longer – nor does he instruct others in that art. He
has climbed up from the lowest social stratum, possesses considerable organizing ability and is
consumed with ambition. Every opportunity for political action he has seized upon with fanatical zeal, and his activities as head of the secret organization absorb him completely.

The Revolutionaries are well content with their chief. He gives his whole strength to the cause, and his excessive talkativeness they tolerate as a necessary evil.

Barth opens the meeting:

 “Comrades! I have first a communication to make. We of the Council have invited Karl Liebknecht to the meeting to-night. I am sure you will approve of that. But I should like to remind
you beforehand, that within our circle Liebknecht is to be treated as the representative of any other
political party would be treated – that is, as a guest, and one to whose opinions we are ready to
listen. At the same time I would ask you not to be dissuaded from the straight path of our policy by
the sudden appearance of Liebknecht in our midst. The hour is not far distant when we must fulfil
our task. The confidence of the upper classes in victory is giving place to a wail of disillusionment.
The divinity of the Hohenzollerns, the infallibility of Ludendorff – all that has gone. Hunger,
wretchedness, anxiety, bereavement, poverty have raised in every heart the cry for peace – the cry
for vengeance upon the guilty.”

“Our preparations are complete. The plan of attack has been elaborated and confirmed in every
smallest detail. Arms and ammunition have been distributed by the leaders of the Storm
Detachments to the various factories. At the signal for battle all work will stop; the workers will
march in close column on the centre of the city; workers within the city limits will barricade the
main thoroughfares. Within a few hours Berlin will be swarming with vast crowds of men.”

“And what about the police?”
“Who will the soldiers side with?”
“I shall call upon Comrade Daumig to answer those questions.”

Ernst Daumig – Prussian deserter; French foreign legionary; conductor on a railway sleeping-car; journalist; until the split in the party, editor of the Vorwärts – he speaks briefly and to the point:
“The police are absolutely loyal to the Government, but they will be overpowered by the armed Storm Detachments allocated to the various columns. The second question is more difficult. With
the few weapons at our disposal we could not do much against the military. I have tried to win the
soldiers over to our side in the coming struggle. I have succeeded in establishing contacts in a good
many of the barracks and have gained considerable agreement and support. Many are on our side.
But it is very difficult to form any reliable estimate of their attitude as a whole. Especially so, in
view of the fact that the military authorities are constantly shifting the troops about – during the last
few days, for instance, they have filled up the garrison with men from the provinces who are wholly
ignorant of the political situation. The military must be isolated by the masses coming in from all
sides, and the crowd must then fraternize with the soldiers and win them over to us.”

“When do we get going? That is the main point.”
“We ought not to delay much longer.”
“Delay can cost us all our heads.”

A motor mechanic states that the workers at the Daimler factory have arranged matters with the soldiers in the Dragoon Barracks. “We are to march through Tempelhof and the soldiers will join us
outside the Halle Gate.”

At that moment the door opens. Liebknecht!

The workers turn round. Most of them know him by sight, but it is a long time since they have
seen him – before the war perhaps, at some meeting or other – a few were on the Potsdamer Platz in
1916 when Liebknecht made his appeal to the workers to fight against the war and called for the
revolution. This is not the place for noisy demonstrations; those nearest the door are already shaking
him by the hand, others wave:

“Karl!”
“You have come just in the nick of time.”
“Things are beginning to move. The fun starts soon.”

Barth observes with displeasure that Liebknecht, though he particularly asked him to come alone, has brought along four colleagues
from the Spartacist League – Pieck, who arrived only yesterday from Holland, and the former
travelling secretary of the party, the long-legged professor and private coach, Duncker – the other two he does not know.

Barth cuts short the subdued ovation.

 “I shall now ask Comrade Ledebour to speak.”

Ledebour had been first among the parliamentarians to recognize in the Revolutionaries the vanguard of the coming revolution, and in the interests of the Independent Party he had kept in
close touch with the group. He now endorses Daumig’s view of the situation as regards the military,
and emphasizes the danger, already hinted at, of any delay in coming into action.

After Ledebour a second Independent addresses the meeting:

“It is obvious, of course, that we should not enter upon the conflict before the final preparations
have been made. In Berlin we have to deal with the Government in its strongest position. And we
must make absolutely sure before we begin that we have sufficient strength behind us. Particularly
must we be sure of the military. Everything is at stake. Comrades, beware of too precipitate
action…”

The Independents, so far as the law would permit, have given expression both in Parliament and
the press to the feelings of the mass of the workers and soldiers. In proportion as the masses grew
weary of the war, the Independents dissociated themselves from the policy of the old order. Their
speeches became more and more radical, and they looked about for every legal means of
overthrowing the Government and the leaders of the old Social Democratic Party, and of filling the
ministerial and high official posts with their own people. For the achievement of this purpose the
Revolutionaries might well prove the most convenient lever; but they desired to accomplish that
purpose with the minimum of risk. And so on the very threshold of revolution they drew back.

The Revolutionaries begin to interrupt the speaker:

 “Aha! Got the wind up, have you?”
“Like to put on the brakes, eh? – now that we have come so far.”
“Sail right in, that’s the only way – same as me and Richard with the ammunition box.”
“If we were to listen to the Party leaders, we should still be making preparations in our graves.”

Liebknecht signals the Chair.

Karl Liebknecht – son of Wilhelm Liebknecht. But he is more than that – he has his own history. On August 4th, 1914, when in obedience to the resolution of the Party majority, he voted with the
rest of the Social Democrats in favour of the War Budget, he had come back to the Party committee
room with tears in his eyes. It was then that Rosa Luxembourg told him he must break with Party
discipline and, single-handed and alone, follow the dictates of his own conscience. Ever since then
he has been following the same hard road. He refused to vote for the Second War Loan. Already in
1915 he had gathered about him a small group of revolutionaries. He was ejected from the Party,
called up for the army, and sent to the Front as an infantryman. At the beginning of 1916 he
published an “open letter”, which he signed with the pseudonym: Spartacus. On May 1st, 1916, he
stood on the Potsdamer Platz, the first open accuser of the Government policy, and, surrounded by a
small band of demonstrators, he made a speech against the war. He was arrested and vanished into
Luckau prison.

Karl Liebknecht. Infantryman. Convict. Tribune of the Revolution.

Here he now stands and speaks:

 “…From various sources I have heard of your existence, of the existence of an illegal revolutionary organization. But I must say I am disappointed in your activities. Frankly I imagined
both your action and the pace of it to be other than I find it. I came here on Wednesday last; I then
witnessed a demonstration the like of which, for enthusiasm, has not been seen in Berlin before.
There had been another of almost equal enthusiasm the day before in front of the Reichstag and
Unter den Linden. I have been here three days now and there has been no fresh demonstration!”

The Revolutionaries sit silent in their places, all eyes turned upon the emaciated face of
Liebknecht which under the greenish light of the one solitary gas-flame looks even paler than in fact
it is. Emil Barth has removed his pince-nez; he polishes the lenses and puts them on again. He
watches his comrades anxiously –

Today will decide whether the Revolutionary Organization is to stick to its programme or not. Barth has always been opposed to sporadic action, as a mere frittering
away of strength. He has divided his organization into various sections according to the several
requirements of propaganda, espionage and direct fighting. He has collected money for the purchase
of arms, made journeys throughout the length and breadth of the country in order to spin the web
wider, dashing from one meeting to the next, and putting all in readiness for the one great blow. It is
nine months since he has had a good night’s sleep. Stupefied with schemes and unsuccessful
combinations, reeking of tobacco smoke, he would crawl wearily after nights of sleeplessness from
the kitchen of his apartment at Neukölln to the room in which slept his wife and his two growing
sons. Still half-dressed he would drop down on the bed and sleep a few hours, only to leave the
house again as soon as he awoke and renew his conspiratorial activities. And now, just as the power
of his adversary, Ludendorff is on the point of collapsing; now, when the moment has come for the
realization of all his great schemes – at this critical moment who should appear but Karl
Liebknecht!”

– Theodor Plivier, The Kaiser Goes, The Generals Remain. Translated by A. W. Wheen. London: Faber & Faber, 1933. pp. 38-42

Painting is Heinrich Vogeler, Deutscher Stachanowarbeiter im Erholungsheim Sotschi (Mitglied der Stachanowbewegung).1936. Oil on canvas.  Housed in Berlin at Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Nationalgalerie, Inv.-Nr. A III 279.  Actually shows a German-Soviet ‘shock worker’ but it works and I like Vogeler…

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“At the other end of the city, surrounded by waste land on the one side and the network of tracks
belonging to Berlin’s largest railway depot on the other, beyond the black silhouettes of the coal-stacks, glow the yellow lighted windows of the Rummelsburg Power Station.

This is the station which supplies East Berlin with light and power. The firemen, the trimmers
and slag- runners of the night shift came on at midnight. At that hour the great finger in the middle
of the boiler-room, indicating the number of kilowatts consumed over the entire system, was
standing at 20,000. By one o’clock, when the last trams stopped and the greater part of Berlin’s
meagre street lighting was turned off, the indicator had fallen to 12,000. The firemen then locked
the rotary grates, banked the fires to smoulder slowly, and shut the furnace doors.

Now they may rest awhile.

There are seventy men in the boiler-room; most are now sitting about eating the bread they have
brought with them. Others are standing in twos and threes talking together. One group is engaged in the eternal dispute-Social Democrats versus Independents, SPD v. USP Another lot in front of
No. 3 furnace is discussing the Union and the wages question.

An engineer comes in from the engine-room. He joins the group before No. 3 furnace and listens
to the discussion.

“They haven’t even the guts to insist on extra pay for night work.”
“Nor for Sunday work, either.”
“What do they think we pay our subs for, I wonder.”
“… and forbidden us to strike, too, they have.”

A trimmer joins the argument:

“Listen to them, Comrade Sült. Overtime pay for night work, extra for Sundays – that’s all they
can think of.”

“No harm in that, if they would set about getting it for themselves, and not wait for the Union
bosses to give them everything.”

“They’ll never strike, especially if it has to be done in spite of the bosses. And as for purely
political demands, they wouldn’t stir a hand.”

The two – Sült, the engineer, and Primelsack, the trimmer – walk across to the larger group in the middle of the room, where the discussion is of the war policies of the two socialist parties, and
the opposed views are being hotly disputed.

“Yes, and what have you gained? Right of assembly, you say. That’s all eye-wash! If you’d seen
the cops hoeing into us with their sabres you’d have known better.”

“Four more meetings they’ve broken up!”

 “Yes, and if it weren’t for the split….”

 “If it weren’t for the split one more party boss would be holding down a cabinet job, eh?”

“And shaking hands with the Emperor, like old Scheidemann,” adds Primelsack.

 “Now listen here, mates – don’t you let anybody persuade you to anything rash. Not even the
Independents can run their heads through a brick wall. We must all stick together and then, when
the men at the top give us the tip, sail in as one man.”
“And what if the men at the top never give us the tip?” asks Sült.

“Don’t you worry – it’ll come all right-the great thing is to sit tight.”

‘Yes, but for how long? Until every man jack of us is dead in the trenches, eh?”
“We must force the leaders’ hand.”

A Social Democrat begins to spout:
“The old Party is what it has always been, a powerful advocate of our interests. The SPD has
always worked for us….”

“Traitors, that’s what they are!”

“Traitors, eh? Which are more traitors – those who voted for three loans, or the others who voted
for five?”

“Nine, you mean, you’ve forgotten four.”

Primelsack is trying to persuade a fireman that there is only one weapon to use against the
Government and the leaders of the SPD in league with it-and that weapon is a hand-grenade.

Sült has returned to the engine-room; on the hard, white-tiled surface stand the turbo-generators
which supply one part of the Berlin complex with light and power – three gloomy, humpbacked
monsters rising almost to the glass roof of the engine-room. The paddle-wheels in their iron bellies
revolve continuously under pressure of the incoming steam, and the steam becomes motion, and the
motion, electricity.
Sült takes a rag from his pocket and wipes off the oil which has dripped from one of the plates. It
is the duty of the engineers to check the number of revolutions, the oil supply, the temperature of
the generators, and every hour to make corresponding entries on the slates. Sült stands fixed on one
spot, fascinated by the high- pitched humming of the machines. Here his mind is at home; here he is
rid of the feeling of impotence which overtakes him in political gatherings and in the fruitless
arguments with colleagues.
The workers’ organizations, the Unions, have failed of their purpose; have turned even into their
very opposites. They have taken from the workers their one defence – the right to strike. And the
Social Democratic Party, in which is concentrated the political will of the working class, has handed
over the masses who created it for their own emancipation, to exploitation and the firing-line.
The truce between Capital and Labour, the bill conscripting the auxiliary services, the political
strikes, and above all the strike of the Berlin metal workers in January, 1918, have shown on which
side the leaders are. They have become servants of the capitalist state, have accepted the task of
turning the workers into a smoothly-running part of the existing order.

Sült is still a member of the Party, still in the Union even. One must be where the masses are.
Who but the masses can do it? It is only those at the head who have sold themselves, and they must
go! Strike, that’s the thing-strike against the war, against the system, against everything and
everybody that supports the system. He considers the revolutionary group which Primelsack wants
him to join – representatives of the most divergent socialist views, they have come together into one
organization, all pledged to the achievement of one end – the overthrow of the system which
brought about the war. All members are recruited exclusively from the factories. They have had the
wits to keep their illegal work from coming to the knowledge of the professional leaders. But of
what use are a few thousand revolvers, and a few dozen hand-grenades? It is the masses we need, and the power of the masses, which lies in their work and in the machines that they serve.

Sült surveys admiringly the enormous belly of the turbine, the shaft of the generator quivering
blue under the strain of its revolutions. He senses in the metal all the strength of the firemen, all the
toil of a whole pitful of coal-miners, here concentrated, vibrating, and being translated into living
power.
Sült understands every technical process of the electric power plant, understands the mechanism
of switches, the twofold system of cables which carries the current to the factories and drives the
machinery of Berlin. The turbines of the power station, the network of electric cables, the lathes and
steam hammers in the workshops – this, the power which drives all the rest, this is the foundation of
the capitalist state. The other – whether government, parliament, or military power – is mere
political superstructure. The working class can free itself only if it begins here, where its combined
strength is made operative – here in the workshops. Economic power, that is the lever. If we but use
it, then the cities are without light, the railway trains idle on the tracks, the military without
munitions. Let the general strike last but three days, the economic circuit is broken; then all
generals, ministers, and bosses will become amen- able. Let the general strike last eight days, then
the whole superstructure will collapse, and the political masters fall. Once we have the power in our
hands we can regulate our production and switch it over to the real needs of society.

Economic
power, that is the lever.  If we pull it over…

Sült does not need to look at the kilowatt-indicator. He has already heard the droning of his
engines
growing heavier.
The invisible paddlewheels are still making the same number of revolutions but the load upon
them has become greater. The trams have started again, and with the dawning of the day ever more
and more factories hitch on to the source of power.
The consumption increases.

The kilowatt-indicator shows 18,000.

A bell rings in the boiler-room, simultaneously red lamps begin to glow beside the indicator.
Work has begun again – the fires are raked, the hard- baked slag is broken up, the rotary grate set
in motion again.

The consumption curve rises gradually to 36,000 kilowatts.

The normal day’s work has begun.

The firemen have all they can do. They regulate the temperature, adjust the water and CO
content of their boilers, open the draught, give the fires the necessary fuel. Columns of trimmers
replenish the bunkers and barrow out the ash into the yard.
The third shift makes the steam, and the steam is converted into current.
And the current drives the trams, laden first with workers, to the factories; an hour later it carries
the clerks, the stenographers and shop girls to the offices and stores. The current is driving the
engines, the cranes, the lifts in hotels; it fills the telephone and telegraph wires with humming life.
The third shift is spent – seventy exhausted figures moving about in the grey light which falls
obliquely from above into the boiler-room.

At eight o’clock comes the relief.”

– Theodor Plivier, The Kaiser Goes, The Generals Remain. Translated by A. W. Wheen. London: Faber & Faber, 1933. pp. 35-37.

Photograph is E.O. Hoppé, “Control Room, Klingenberg Power Station, Berlin, 1928.” Source.

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“The ranks wait on, all merged in the gloom.

Only when a woman has to leave the line, or a child comes from home bringing a stone bottle of
hot water to warm the feet, or someone collapses from exhaustion – as happens not infrequently –
then those near wake from their doze.

A fine rain begins to fall, and they huddle still closer together. They have brought with them the
atmosphere of their overcrowded dwellings, the distinctive effluvia of the various diseases which
are devouring them-lice, scabies, boils, rashes. There is no more soap to be had in Germany, only
substitute stuff made from clay and sand without fat. The stench of open sores, the smell of
unwashed clothes, the cold odour of bad tobacco, mingle with the vapours of the slaughter-yard and hang like a foetid cloud over the people.

There is a disturbance among the crowd by the street lamp. A few young communists are pushing their way through; they have a pot of paste and a bundle of posters, one of which they stick
on the wall. Those around Truda Müller have been wakened, too; “Look out what you’re doing,
treading on my feet!”

“Sorry, you shouldn’t have such a pair of stilts!”
“What do you mean, sorry? Like me to put my feet in my pocket I suppose, eh?”
“The young people of today….”
“What are you doing pushing in here?”
“Don’t get excited! I’ve got my own place a long way forward. I only want to have a word with my neighbour here!”

Lucy Lange has vacated her place and come back to have a yarn with Truda Müller.

“Did you see them, Frau Müller, the fellows with the posters? And yesterday evening too, while it was still light, they had a meeting again at the beer house, the “Schusterkeller” at the corner, and
the professor from our house – you know, Duncker, second floor, front – he was there, with his wife
too! These Independents, what do they want I wonder – Yes, and that porter woman of ours, pity
she doesn’t mind her own business! I bet she knows where the rabbits in the cellar disappear to.
Feeds them with a few potato-peelings, and then, hey presto, and they’re gone – And that Möhring
woman too, with her soldier man! Why the whole house is talking about it….”

Truda Müller casts a warning glance in the direction of the little girl Lena.

But Lucy goes on, with a wave of the hand:

“What, her! She is all there, don’t you worry! But that’s a fact, what I was saying about Möhring. And her soldier, too – a deserter, I dare say. And her husband killed not six months ago! –
By the way, how is your husband doing? – I say, my father had such a row with me. Said I mustn’t
write to Karl Raumschuh … that’s my fiancé, you know – because he’s a sailor! …”

One of the leave-men turns round, and a woman also:
“My hat, but can’t she talk, eh?”
“And such things!”
“What do you mean, such things? Can’t I talk with my neighbour about my fiancé if I want to? The sailors aren’t such a bad lot anyway; they do want peace!”

She turns to Truda Müller again:

“Karl wrote and told me he means to come to Berlin when he is demobilized. He’s going to look for work here. Yes, and your little boy, how is he getting on?”

Truda Müller is only listening with half an ear. She is troubled that she cannot picture dearly to herself the face of her child: “I don’t know – I ought to have telephoned”

A herd of cattle surges along on the far side of the wall of the slaughter-yard. One can hear the curses of the drivers, the blows of the sticks against the flanks of the animals, and quite near, the
hollow bellowing of an ox.

Now a light, like red smoke, shows from one of the sheds, and there are sounds of activity in the
yard.

The queue numbers over two thousand.

And before the markets and retail shops of Berlin are standing perhaps as many queues. In
Munich and Hamburg and Dresden, everywhere the same. Coal-less days, bread made of sawdust,
shirts made from stinging nettles, boots made from paper. In some country districts the fire-stick
has been introduced.

There is food to be had, of course, from the smugglers. Soldiers’ wives, if they have two
children, get an allowance of only 48 marks; if more, then 50 or 60 marks-hardly enough to enable
them to pay the extortionate prices asked. So they go to work in the munition factories, and clothe
themselves in old army clothes which they remake. In wooden-soled shoes they stand in queues –
for meat, for margarine, for synthetic jam, for potatoes, for substitute stuffs of every kind…

Business has begun in the slaughter-yard.
The first wagon rolls out through the gate. It is laden with sides of pork. Tender and newly washed the carcases lie in the grey light of dawn.

The gas-lamp at the corner has gone out. And the police are there again.
The people along the wall begin to stir-like hens waking on the perch and preening their feathers.

The women remove their threadbare coverings. The men lift their noses from the collars of their
coats and set their caps back from off their faces. “Hey, stop your pushing, you!”

“It’s the kid there – they are always trying to worm their way in. You stay where you are, and
don’t go making trouble!”

It is the woman beside the little girl who says this, the one with the curling-papers – she has long
skirts on too. Lena can’t abide women with long skirts. She knows from bitter experience – the
longer the skirts the longer the tongue. Least of all can she stick being called “a kid”. As if she
wouldn’t be leaving school soon, and didn’t do most of the housework already! You see, her uncle
goes to work and her aunt – she’s got a proper fat belly already – it can’t be long now. Then will
come all the bother with the napkins…

The “Carry on” propaganda for the war has found a place even here. On the wall, which is
surmounted by broken glass and three strands of barbed wire, are posted appeals for the Ninth War
Loan-signed by Field Marshal von Hindenburg, Prince Max of Baden, Secretary of State Erzberger.

There is even a placard signed by Scheidemann, an exhortation in beautiful gothic characters:

Let everyone who has money subscribe!
It is no sacrifice
To invest money at 5 per cent
where it is safe as a ward in chancery!

Diagonally across the paragraph is pasted the propaganda strip of the Spartacist League which
the young fellows with the paste pot put up during the night. Two lines of crude lettering:

The war is for the rich!
The poor pay for it in corpses!

The meat-issue has begun at last.

The people are admitted in batches, a hundred at a time. The police count off twenty-five rows,
and each person gets a half-pound of meat. The meat is that of cattle which the inspector has
condemned; the meat from healthy animals passes through other channels, through the butchers’
shops, to that section of the population which can pay the high prices asked there.

It is another hour before Truda Müller reaches the shed. And behind her are seven hundred
people. She receives her meat, as does the file behind her, also. Of the next row only one receives
his ration – the rest get nothing.

The supply is exhausted – Sold out.

And 700 persons still standing in the street.

The police cannot hold back the mob. They surge up to the gate, and in to the sheds. They must see with their own eyes that nothing more is left. They gaze at the meat-hooks around the walls and
at the empty counters. The foremost force their way in to the very chopping-blocks where an
assistant is busy sweeping away the last splinters of bone.

The shed resounds with the angry cries of the crowd.

“Dirty swindlers!”
“Profiteers!”
“Hoarders!”

“They put some aside before they started.”

“Yes, if you’ve got money, you can get anything.” – “…And without queuing up too!” – “When
is the swindle going to stop?”

“Smash up the whole gang!”

The women stand, following with their eyes those who have received their portion. An old man
with a last wisp of grey hair on his head has taken off his cap and is trying to conceal his piece of
meat within it. The cap he covers with the palm of his hand.

The women edge up close to the old fellow. He can feel their hunger and lowers his eyes.
“And the likes of him eat what little there is.”
“Yes, and even get extra milk off the Council.”
“I don’t know what they go on living for.”

“Don’t talk rot! They feel hunger, same as you do. It’s the big slugs as eat up everything.”
“And our children…”

With a sense of guilt the old man, quite persuaded his life is not worth his meat, looks for a way of escape through the angry mob.

The police clear the shed. “Move along! Out of it!”
“D’you think I’m deaf?”
“Out of it! Move along!”
“Steady on there, constable!” – “Dare say you still get plenty to eat, what?”
“The police? You bet! But if the likes of us want a little bit of meat….”
“They ought to be in the trenches with our husbands!”
“Hey, you take your hands off me!”
“Hands off be damned – you hop it!”

 The police-blue uniforms, spiked helmets, truncheons in hand, scatter the mob and drive them along the streets. The women in their heavy cloaks, laden with footstools and blankets, move along
with difficulty.

The gate of the slaughter-house is closed once more and the crowd gradually lost in the side
streets.

Truda Müller has gone to the nearest telephone box.

Lucy Lange and Lena Hanke have come with her. She calls the hospital and asks in the
children’s ward after the condition of her son. She has to wait for an answer; then she hears a calm,
matter-of-fact voice from the hospital:

“He died last night at eleven o’clock!”

 Truda Müller gazes at the telephone, timorously she hangs the receiver back on the hook.

“Well – how is he?” asks Lucy Lange. The woman makes no answer.

Yesterday, at eleven – no, that is beyond her to picture. She does not want to think the thought to its end. Suddenly she wants nothing. She opens the door. Once outside she begins to run, without
being sensible of the weight of her body, without feeling anything at all. In an open place she comes
to a standstill – Forckenbeck Platz, she reads absently. Bewildered she still holds the basket of meat
in her hands. The almost leafless branches of the trees are swaying against a leaden sky. Truda
Müller sees all things as she has never seen them before, as if she were now seeing them for the first
time.

At eleven o’clock-she was in bed; it was at eleven that neighbour Lange stumped out in his
heavy boots, banging the door after him. She suddenly remembers her husband. It is over a year
since he was home on leave. So long since he saw the boy, and now he will never see him again…
She does not know how she found her way back, but here she is again in Boxhagenerstrasse, in
front of the baker’s shop. Never again will the boy flatten his nose against the window-pane; never
again ask for a penny with which to buy a piece of fruit tart. Never again.

He died at eleven.

She arrives at her house; she climbs slowly up the stairs, shuts the door after her. The dim light
from the courtyard falls upon her unmade bed. And there is the cot, and beneath it the little shoes;
she stoops and picks them up. They had been kicked out at the toes; only yesterday she had them
back from the cobbler.

With the shoes still in her hand she sits down on the edge of the bed.
And so her neighbours find her – Frau Lange, and Hanke, and the porter woman.

“Frau Müller ….”
“Lucy told us… .”
“Come, Müller, bear up!”
“It might be worse, you know-just think if anything should happen to your husband. He’s still out in the trenches remember!”

“…And all the trouble one has to rear them!”
“Consumption it was, of course – my husband said so from the beginning.”
 “Children are such weaklings these days.”
 “One must be thankful he was still so little. When they’ve grown up and you’ve had so much more trouble with them, then …”
“You know Frau Duncker? the professor’s wife in the front block. Well, she says: So long as the war lasts and the workers have to sweat their guts out for a starvation wage, the women should go
on strike and refuse to have any more children.”

“What does she know? She only gets it out of books.”
“Never mind, she’s right all the same – so we ought.”
The porter woman looks at Frau Hanke, who has folded her hands over her stomach:
“Yes, no more war, or no more children.”
“And when is the funeral?”

 “Goodness me, if she hasn’t left the meat in the basket all this time! Why, it will go bad!” exclaims Frau Lange unwrapping it. She fills a pot with water and puts the piece of meat in it.
“There now, it will be cooked at least. So. And now a pinch of salt.”

Truda Müller gets up and fetches the salt.

Now Lucy has come in, and Möhring and her soldier. “Everybody has his pack to carry these
days,” says the soldier. “I had a daughter once, and when I came back from the Front….”

“And Max was such a darling little boy,” says Möhring.
“It’s all the fault of the war,” continues the soldier.
“But it won’t stop of itself. If only those fools at the Front would take a pull and turn the guns”
Truda Müller stands helpless in the middle of her room until the women have gone at last.

“Müller, dear, you know you can knock on the wall if you want any- thing,” says Frau Lange as she
leaves.

But Truda Müller cannot stay in the house. She hastens out into the street again.

At the door she meets a woman with a savoy cabbage under her arm, who nods to her just as if
nothing had happened. And at the tram-stop over the way people are waiting for the tram, just as on
any other day.

She hurries along the street not conscious whither she would go. With unusual precision she sees
the persons and things which she passes by, but only as so many unrelated incidents. She loses
herself in external phenomena, and remains utterly absorbed until fresh ones appear, then they in
their turn take automatic possession of her. Now it is a tattered poster on a wall; now a number on a
house – 26; a man picking up bits of paper and lugging after him a sack already half-filled; a
schoolgirl with skimpy pigtails pushing a pram full of mended uniforms; two policemen – their
tunics, grown too big for them, hanging slackly about their bellies; a pedlar with a hand-barrow,
trading little bundles of kindling-wood for potato-peelings.

“Peelings-potato-peelings!” he cries.

“Peelings-potato-peelings …” it goes singing monotonously, endlessly through her head. Until
she pulls up suddenly in front of two straining horses and is almost caught beneath the wheels of a
dray.

“Silly ass! – why don’t you look where you’re going!”
“You were lucky that time, miss!”
She sees the dusty face of the driver, she sees the wagon, piled high with rolls of ration-paper, as

it reels past her and turns in at a gateway. And wagon and driver and passers-by, all seem unreal to
her and far away.

Everything appears to her unfamiliar and meaningless.

Yet it is all the same, just as on any other day.

Berlin standing in queues, mending soldiers’ uniforms, printing newspapers; discussing Wilson’s
latest note, studying the latest saccharine and fat ration-cards just issued by the Food Office,
arguing about the col- lapse of Turkey, the defection of Austria, and the peace.

Everyone in his place, everyone going his accustomed way.”

-Theodor Plivier, The Kaiser Goes, The Generals Remain. Translated by A. W. Wheen.  London: Faber & Faber, 1933. pp. 29-32
 

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“The Prince remains seated bolt upright.

Only when the valet has gone does he get up and stagger across to his room. He throws off his clothes and climbs into bed. After a while he sits up, drops a sleeping-powder into a glass of water
and drinks it off.

But the dose is not strong enough. It lessens the pain but brings no real rest, no complete
forgetfulness. The Prince sinks into a half-stupor. His activities as Chancellor, as Director of the
Prisoners’ Welfare Organization, his negotiations with persons in authority, his meditations, his
doubts as to imperial policy-nothing of all this leaves him. Four weeks Chancellor of the
Revolution, four years of War, forty years of Empire – all this surges through his head, bashes
through his over- worked brain, wild confusion of disconnected thoughts, trains of broken sentences
somewhere heard, somewhere formulated – We all want peace. But the request for an armistice was
a mistake. We must defend ourselves, tooth and claw, horn and hoof! Rathenau is right, and Solf
and the Vice-Chancellor are right. But consider, Your Excellency – the superiority, the tanks! Of
course, there are the Guards – yes, the Guards and the Jäger battalions. Every man jack with a tank
on his horns. But soldiers must eat. Else they will leave the trenches, and greet the troops going to
their relief with cries of “Scab”. You see, it is a matter of potatoes. But Herr Scheidemann
understands nothing of foreign politics. General Groener? The very man, with his knowledge of the
railway and transport system, admirably qualified for the withdrawal of the troops.

No, not a real claw, of course, not a claw, only a hand, a timid outstretched hand. The widow’s
portion has been eaten. The inheritance of the orphan has been taken from him and given in war
loans. The aged have not wherewith to cover their nakedness, and at the barracks’ doors the
children stand hungry…

Alas, where is carpentry, there also will be shavings.
Man perishes, the work abides.
The Christian Empire! But he is here to liquidate that. Prince Max – Receiver in Bankruptcy!

Chancellor of the Revolution! But his great-uncle in the “Galerie des Glaces” in the palace of Louis
XIV of France – the Grand Duke of Baden and the Confederate Princes, Bismarck and Moltke. All
Germany from the Memel to the Bodensee knit together forever! Up ewig ungedeelt!

That was Versailles, January, 1871. That was the beginning: Germany built herself ships.
Germany bought herself colonies and coaling-stations; by peaceful penetration she won herself a
place in the sun.

The Programme: Heligoland-Baghdad.
German Emperor – Hurrah!

But the old methods of colonization won’t do any more. The happiness of other races, remember – yes, and the happiness of the coolies in Kiautschou and of the Hereros in South Africa. But those
statistics, those terrible statistics! 100,000 Hereros, and only 21,000 of them left. The report please.
Look at the seal and the signature! Precisely 7,000 men, 9,000 women, 5,420 children…

Prince Max groans aloud in his sleep.

He groans for the natives, who with their herds of cattle, their wives and children have been driven from the prairies to die of thirst by the dried-up waterholes. Can a cow bellow so loud as
that? And the face of a negro become so white?

Stay, wretched man! Who would deny to a disarmed foe… We must have a Ministry for War
Prisoners! War and imprisonment, they must be organized on humane principles. A most damnable
fact: even German soldiers have been known to shoot down unarmed prisoners! A boatswain split
with a hatchet the skulls of foreign sailors swimming for their lives!

“Understand me. Let there be no quarter. No prisoners. Carry your weapons so that in a thousand
years…” But that was a mere rhetorical slip on William II’s part. The fact remains: he who denies
pardon to a defenceless foe is a traitor.

But consider, Your Excellency – our own prisoners! Anyway, we must take reprisals against
France; against England they are unnecessary; and against Russia, useless. The Russian pays no
attention to the sufferings of his own people! Any reprisal must strike back a hundredfold on our
own prisoners. There is nothing for it in Russia but to appeal to influential persons.

Seventy thousand, Your Ladyship!

Seventy thousand German war prisoners building the Murman railway! They have no boots on
their feet, Your Ladyship! Yes, I know, those mujiks – they have no boots either. But think of the
latitude, the cold and the blizzards in the far north. The soldiers’ greatcoats are threadbare and give
no protection against such a climate. And the food, dearest Grand Duchess Elizabeth – the
prisoners eat like pigs. I am sure it is only because they have no spoons that they dip into the
containers with their hands. And if they are greedy, it is only because the food is insufficient to go
round. Do not take it amiss that I seek to enlist Your Ladyship’s influence in a matter of this kind.
There are no doctors, no medicine, no sick parade at all. If a man’s feet are frozen, he must hobble
along as best he can, he must still keep his place in the line, still keep on harrowing the dirt, lugging
sleepers and rails. Any man who breaks down is lashed to his feet and driven again to the work.
What is the sense of such methods? Neither can I understand it, Anna Elizabeth! No, I was not
aware that a man’s skin may become so cold that the stroke of a whip can be a warming caress. I do
not understand the economics of it, but it seems to be something like this: A man lives but once, and
he should not live in idleness. And the hours of ten thousand dying men are enough to carry the railway ten thousand yards forward.

Seventy thousand prisoners are engaged in constructing the railway. And so far 25,000 have
died.

No protest has availed. I appeal to you and your husband, Konstantin Konstantinovitch – who is
a Russian poet, and has translated Hamlet! On the strength of our youthful friendship, Anna
Elizabeth – remember the days we spent together at Schloss Salem! Intervention on the part of the
Dowager Empress might bring some relief to the unfortunates!

What, the Empire in danger? And the Czar’s throne, too! By the gentle teaching of Jesus, by the
wisdom and righteousness of the Sermon on the Mount-yes indeed -but who would have imagined a
cow could bellow so, dearest Anna Elizabeth? And who would have guessed that the belly of a dead
soldier would look like that? Died of starvation, obviously. Only the bellies of the starving swell so.
With scurvy the teeth drop out. And beriberi softens the bones. Yes, unfortunately – it does happen,
even in our own prison camps – it is not entirely preventable.

Nor is the international character of the armament industry entirely to be prevented. Krupp sells
steel, Zeiss-Jena firing-directors, the Magdeburg Cable Company barbed wire. They all sell to the
foreigner. Krupp, Thyssen, Stinnes, all of them – and cheaper than to the Supreme Command!

The German soldiers attacking Douaumont were hung up in barbed wire from Magdeburg, and
in Flanders German marines were blown to bits by English shells with Krupp’s fuses. No, no,
steady on! that is going too far! Pardon me! Examine the documents for yourself. The Prussian
Minister for War enquired into the matter. Unfortunately it cannot be helped – you see, the Entente
supplies us with rubber, copper, and nickel in exchange.

And these men? Oh dear no, these men have not been selling steel to the enemy, nor infantry
shields, nor firing-directors! These are Belgian unemployed. There is no occasion for the women to
trail after them so; they have no reason to weep. Compulsory levies like this are necessary on grounds of security and they are permitted by international law. You see, the German heavy
industries want 20,000 Belgian workers a week. And what the heavy industries require, the
Supreme Command must supply. But the Supreme Command gets nothing in exchange, it makes
nothing out of it, you understand; it does it from pure patriotism. The Supreme Command and the
War Ministry are the most humane powers in Germany.

What, man! are you out of your wits?
The Grand Duchess Elizabeth murdered?
Reports admit no doubt of it, Your Highness. Anna Elizabeth dead. The Czarina, the Cesarevitch, the Czar – all dead. Murdered in a cellar, their bodies cut in pieces, soaked in petrol
and burned. An officer has brought the remains to Europe. A small suitcase full – bits of bone,
precious stones, a few rings melted to one lump, two almost intact still….

There is something fishy about it. Don’t come to me with such yarns! Won’t have it, understand?
What’s that you say?-the emerald still perfectly transparent once the soot was wiped off? One
emerald, three onyx, fourteen gold settings, all melted, one hundred and twelve pieces of bone, two
corset-ribs, almost perfect- and that is all that remains of the Court and the Royal Family?

Well, well, it will make excellent propaganda, no doubt, against Bolshevism! Was he well paid
for it, this prince, this officer?

Anyway, there is no disproving it.
And every labourer is worthy of his hire.
Man perishes, but the Murmansk railway abides.
Krupp’s steel for the Entente. Zeiss lenses for the English fleet. Magdeburg barbed wire for our soldiers at Douaumont. Shells with Krupp’s fuses for our men in Flanders.

And the Emperor travelling in a sealed carriage. Deputy Ebert – no, I don’t believe that! He will never make a courtier. Just look at his fat, hairy hands! But the fellow is doing what he can…
And His Excellency the Minister for the Interior, Herr Drews, too.

Baghdad – all change!

 After you, Your Ladyship! Long live the Czar! Hurrah for the Emperor!

Drews! – Good God, the man is under the wheels! … The Prince tosses on his couch. His face is
hectic red.

Thick sweat is on his brow. Gathering his strength he wrenches himself free and utters a cry of
relief.

The doctor is waiting with Hahn in the next room.

They had found the Prince already asleep and decided not to disturb him. But now they have
heard the groaning and the cry.

They knock on the half-open door and enter immediately.
The Prince is sitting bolt upright shouting: “Drews! Drews!”
“His Excellency, Herr Drews, has just telephoned. He has been received by the Emperor, but his mission has failed. He was told off roundly… “

The Chancellor has slipped half out of bed, his feet on the floor. He looks at the secretary, then at the doctor – gradually he comes to himself.

“Yes, of course, Drews… So the report has come?”
“No, only a verbal message, by telephone. The Minister for the Interior will be back in the morning.”

“Give me something to drink, will you, please?”
The doctor hands the Prince a glass of water. “Ask Dr. Solf to come, please.”
“Dr. Solf has gone from the House. He left a message that he would be back at midnight.”
“Pulse 70 – the fever has increased a little. Your Highness needs absolute rest. Let us try a sleeping draught.”

“I must speak to Dr. Solf first.”
“In your Highness’s weakened state – pardon me, but your Highness absolutely must have one night’s uninterrupted sleep.”

“Very well then, but something a little stronger, if you please. I have taken one already.”

The doctor gives him a dose – three times the usual strength.
The Prince scribbles a note:

“For Dr. Solf. And I must be called at eight in the morning.”
He sits up once again:

“What is that noise? Is it a demonstration?”
“No, Your Highness – it is the wind in the trees.””

– Theodor Plivier, The Kaiser Goes: The Generals Remain. Translated by A. W. Wheen.  London: Faber & Faber, 1933. pp. 21-23

Painting is Max Beckmann, Resurrection (Auferstehung) from Faces (Gesichter) 1918. Drypoint. Source: moma.org

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A rumbling.
The earth trembling.
The man cannot stop himself-he withdraws his head from the hole; he looks upward, and sees the tank.

He sees it above him, over his head. The tank makes a clumsy cradling movement against the arc of the sky, hovers a moment, its prow in the air.

Gunner Müller feebly raises a hand as if to ward it off. The great belly rocking downwards upon him – the livid, striped steel armour, the double rows of rivets, the caterpillars dripping earth-all these
are etched on the retina of his eyes as on photographic plates. The tank weighs three to four tons,
sixty to eighty hundredweight. The human body may withstand a pressure of six hundredweight;
with seven the breath goes out of it; eight and the bones crack; eighty…..

The lips draw back. The teeth are bared. Max Müller’s face has the same expression as the dead
Number Two; the same anguished mouth as a woman’s in childbirth.

The tank slides smoothly down into the crater.

Two dead Numbers and one living, it irons them out flat. Then it lifts itself up again to the level
ground and rolls on in line with the rest of the squadron, clanking and firing, against the retreating
German Front.

A dug-out, rafters, and above them a few feet of earth. Below a lieutenant seated before a field-
telephone. A man comes down the steps, he clicks his heels and reports: “Machine-gun posts have
retired, out of touch with Müller’s group.”

The message arrives before the tanks but hardly before the bombing planes. Telephonic
communications are still intact. The lieutenant takes up the receiver and reports to Battalion
Headquarters: “Front line evacuated.” Battalion H.Q. where the messages from all parts of the
sector are assembled, telephones yet farther back to Brigade: “Broken through on the whole sector –
Yes, four kilometres! Tank attack on a front of four kilometres!”

The face of the lieutenant in the dug-out is ashen grey. He is dirty, lousy and, like his men half-starved. He has been for weeks in the front line without relief.

The officer at Battalion H.Q. looks spruce and well shaven. He still gets enough to eat, he sleeps
regularly and at times may even have a bath in his private quarters. The Brigade Major, who passes
the messages yet farther back to Army, inhabits a villa with every comfort – conservatory, garage,
stables.

The Hindenburg Line, to which the people pinned its faith as if it were a new evangel in
concrete, has been broken. The Hindenburg Line, the Wotan Line, the Siegfried Line, the Hermann
and Hunding-Brunhild Line, built up with such unremitting, titanic toil, have been overrun and now
lie behind the advancing Allied troops. From the flooded regions of Flanders to the Vosges the
German Front is in full retreat.

The Germans leave behind them each day a few more miles of country, each day a few more
thousand dead.

But behind the lines of defence the Generals and staff officers forever reassemble the fragments
of broken divisions, reorganize them in new formations, fill them out with scratch drafts from home
and throw them again into the battle.

The military machine is still intact.

Only at the Base, indeed, not at the Front.

In the platoons and sections the collapsing system is relinquishing its hold. But behind the line sergeant majors still require to be saluted, they still bully, they still drill. Quartermaster-sergeants
still issue rations, still arrange fatigues, still supervise the digging of burial pits, still serve out
schnapps – half a litre a head – to the men going up the line.

And 100 miles behind the Front, behind Battalion, Brigade, Division, and Army, at GHQ, where
all the threads meet, in a room of the Hotel Britannia at Spa, a man is stooping over maps and sheets
of figures-he is of the same Prussian sergeant-major type, with the same sergeant-major’s features
but better tended, a closely- shaved heavy jowl, and a little turned-up moustache, a uniform with the
red stripes of a general staff officer, the star of an order on his breast. He scans once more the lines,
the hatchings and points which represent armies, strong points, reserves; then he bundles together a
number of hastily-made sketches and memoranda and hands them to a colonel.

A soldier helps him into his cloak; he takes down his cap and in company with the colonel leaves
the room.

Outside the hotel stands a motor-car. At the station a special train is waiting. The two general
staff officers climb in.

The heavy engine begins to move. After a short distance it is tearing along with its two carriages,
one telegraph and one saloon car, at top speed across the country. Trains come from the opposite
direction – coughing engines, seemingly endless columns of trucks – trains laden with cement, with
trench-supports, munitions, and a stream of troops dragging forever westward.

The line is cleared at congested stations; troop trains and goods trains are shunted on to side tracks; hospital trains destined for home stand waiting. On the platforms soldiers stand round the
fountains and at the flying kitchens of the railway service. Every station presents the same picture.
Soldiers stamping about to keep warm or seated on their packs and bundles. And all of them talking
of the self-same things – of food, of their officers, of peace. They gaze curiously after the special as
it races by with curtained windows.

“A big bug!” they all agree.

Only when passing through the larger cities does the locomotive slacken its pace, then rushes on
again always at top speed. After four hours the train rolls thundering over the long bridge which
crosses the Rhine at Cologne.

The man from Spa is sitting in the saloon, the forgotten stump of a cigar between his lips. An
orderly comes in and lays the newly-received telegraphic tapes on the table: Americans attacking
heavily between Argonne and the Maas – army group crown prince Rupprecht driven back behind
the Lys – Ostend, Tourcoing, Roubaix, Douai evacuated – between Le Cateau and the Oise the
battle in full swing.

The orderly goes back to the colonel at work in the telegraph car. The man in the saloon car, who
through two years of unceasing activity has directed the movements of the German troops-he, who
eight weeks ago dismissed sixty generals on the Western Front, is in no hurry to read the incoming
reports. Without looking at them he knows that every passing hour is a fresh hammer-blow against
the German Front. He leans back and stares into space. He is feeling the burden of his flesh, heavy
and strange. He has grown weary.

One day later, 17th October, 1918.

The man from Spa is approaching the Imperial Chancellery. The guard presents arms. The
flunkeys behind the tall glass doors stand motionless as statues. After the man with the general’s
cord has gone by, one of them whispers: “That’s him – that’s Ludendorff!”

The Chief Quartermaster-General, Ludendorff stands before the members of the War Cabinet,
the members of the newly-appointed National Government. The meeting is presided over by the
Chancellor, Prince Max of Baden. Beside the Chancellor sits the Vice-Chancellor, von Payer, on
either side of the table are the ministers and Secretaries of State. The patriotic Left is represented by
the Social Democrat, Scheidemann.

The members of the Cabinet are putting questions. The defeated General answers:

“War is not a matter of simple arithmetic – no one can really tell what will happen. … Germany’s
luck may easily turn again. … Gaps four miles wide have been made in the front, it is true,
nevertheless the enemy has not broken through ….We have been pushed back, but it came off all
right… . One should not overestimate the Americans …. The 41st Division? That was a matter of
morale. The Division had had influenza. They were short of rations ….I have every hope that the
present fear of the tanks will in time be overcome. Once the morale is restored; the troops will make
short work of them – as it is, the Jäger battalions and the Guards have rare sport shooting them up… If
the army can get through the next four weeks successfully, and winter comes, then we are well
away… It all depends on what the homeland can still give us. It is a question of man-power.”

The Western Front is collapsing; the allies are defaulting; the reserves of men are exhausted; yet
the General still begs for a last 600,000 men.

There he sits – a uniform, decorations, the “pour le mérite” on his breast. His heavy, fleshy face
is expressionless. When he looks at the members of the War Council his glance is sidelong under
half-closed eyelids. The Minister for War, the Secretary of State for the Navy, Admiral von Scheer,
General Hoffmann who has been summoned from the Eastern Front, all these are fighters. The
Imperial Chancellor, Prince Max of Baden also ranks as a general, but he is not wearing his
uniform. The rest – the Vice-Chancellor, the Secretaries of State and the various ministers are
civilians. One is a barrister, another a judge, a third a journalist; the Social-Democratic Secretary of
State was once a printer.

What is the matter with the fellow? What is biting him now? Gröber, the leader of the Centre
Party, an octogenarian with a long white beard, turns his great gleaming spectacles upon the Chief
Quartermaster-General.

He begins to talk of the depressed mood of the troops. “It is primarily a matter of feeding.
Take the officers’ canteens, for instance – understand that the officers can get additional supplies and even
luxuries; but if a private soldier comes in, he is told it is not intended for him. Cannot such glaring
contrasts be avoided?”

Ludendorff surveys the ministers – neither have these gentlemen the appearance of drawing their
midday ration from the soup-kitchens – but he replies patiently to the question. “In the trenches
both officers and men eat from the same field-cooker. But the Staff is situated differently and it is
only natural if they arrange things better. It is hardly to be expected we should eat from the field-
kitchens. Whatever is fair and just we enforce. The mischief is that rumours are circulated which are
injurious to our reputation ….”

The Chancellor calls the gentlemen to order: “I must ask you not to go into details; we have not
time for that.”

They discuss the position on the Western Front, the occupied regions in the East, the possibility
of withdrawing troops from the Eastern Front to strengthen the West.

“What is the precise value of the Ukraine as a source of food?”
“Well, we bought up a million and a half tons of grain there which are already beginning to rot!”

“It is no longer possible to get any considerable quantity of grain, fodder or cattle from there, so I suggest we abandon the occupation of the Ukraine, and in case of necessity supplement our
supplies by smuggling.”

But then there are political considerations: “We must hold the Ukraine as a concentration-point
against the Russian menace, against Bolshevism.”

Dr. Solf, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, has a report from the Consul on conditions in the
Ukraine and informs the meeting that the economic value of the country to Germany is very
considerable. “I also asked Herr von Mumm what would happen in the Ukraine if we withdrew the
German troops. He was sure, so he told me, that the Bolshevists would then gain control and behave
in the most savage and terrible manner. All the well-to-do would be executed.”

“We should have to chance that; even though it were against our pledged word,” retorted
Ludendorff. “Is the evacuation necessary or not necessary for Germany? If it is, then it must be
done, no matter what the consequences.”

But General Hoffmann requires three months to withdraw his divisions from the East. And it is
generally agreed that the troops, infected as they are with Bolshevism, are no longer suitable to fight
in the West.

Therefore the Western Front must be reinforced from home.

The Chancellor breaks off the debate on the Ukraine: “I pass now to the second question: Is the
country prepared to place the necessary man-power at the disposal of the Higher Command?”

The Minister for War and the Chief of Staff, Colonel Heye, who has accompanied Ludendorff
from Spa, speak in reply to this question. The Chancellor, the Vice-Chancellor and the various
Secretaries of State ask questions.

Ludendorff follows the arguments brought forward with ever growing concern. In his hand he
has the agenda drawn up by the Cabinet as a basis for the discussion; he sets it down on the table
and restlessly shoves it hither and thither– Yes, His Excellency the Quartermaster-General who has
overthrown Cabinets and meditated Dictatorship; who has already prepared a political programme
for the repopulation of the country after the conclusion of the “victorious war”, according to which
the Government and the General Staff shall supervise domestic life, regulate propagation,
education, sanitation and housing-reform; organize the struggle against decreasing birth-rate,
gonorrhoea and syphilis, against celibacy and promiscuity, against the use of contraceptives, against
excessive attendance at cinemas and against the use of tobacco and alcohol by the young; who has a
politico-military programme which beginning with bonuses for nursing mothers, and by means of
patriotic instruction, a law requiring military training in schools, an extension of the period of
military service, a tax on bachelors, and by the granting of privileges to patriotic organizations, is to
transform German citizens into soldiers and the begetters of future soldiers– Yes, His Excellency General Ludendorff who would turn Germany into one vast barracks, German industry into a body
of army contractors, and make the entire population of the country the compulsory inmates of this
great barracks, his Excellency, who has sent 1,600,000 men to their death for this “Greater
Fatherland”, his Excellency has become nervous and is now fidgeting with a piece of paper. He
looks around in search of help, his glance stops at the face of the Secretary of State, Scheidemann,
and he hangs on those watery blue eyes.

Scheidemann, thin, a great shining skull, tufts of grey hair on the temples, straightens up in his
chair: “I believe it may still be possible to round up a few hundred thousand more men for the
Army, but he would be deceiving himself who imagined that those hundreds of thousands would in
any way improve the morale of the army….”

Scheidemann, representing the Social Democracy, the last political capital of Imperial Germany,
is General Ludendorff’s last hope.

“Could not your Excellency contrive to raise the spirits of the masses?”

His Excellency Herr Scheidemann replies: “It is really a question of food. We have no meat, we
cannot bring up potatoes because we are short four thousand trucks daily, we have practically no
more fats. The shortage is so great that it is a puzzle how Berlin North and Berlin East are to get
their food. So long as this puzzle remains unsolved, it is impossible to raise the spirits of the
people.”

When Scheidemann talks of the masses, he speaks as a professional, as a technical expert, to
advise the Government what pressure the body politic can support without danger of an explosion.
The explosion now appears to be inevitable. The duration of the war, the defection of the other
allies, the ever increasing misery at home, the transport crisis, the food shortage…

The army has only sufficient oil for another six weeks.

Admiral von Scheer expresses his readiness to hand over to the army the navy’s oil stocks, of
which it has sufficient for another eight months. At this point Drews, Minister for the Interior,
reminds the meeting of the paraffin lamps of the civil population: “Ten thousand tons of oil monthly
are the minimum requirement, if the people are to be kept even moderately quiet through the
winter.”

The Secretaries of State see no way out. The seventy one year-old Vice-Chancellor von Payer
sits there with knitted brows. Secretary of State Gröber has sunk down into his chair. The eyes
behind the great spectacles stare wearily, ever at the self-same spot. Dr. Solf looks again and again
across at Ludendorff who, through his insistent demand fourteen days ago for an armistice, has
brought the Cabinet to this desperate pass, and yet who today suddenly advances the opinion that
the Front may yet be able to hold out until the early spring. But the situation report which he has
just given refutes this opinion, and above all it admits of no strong reply to President Wilson’s
humiliating note. The discussion continually returns to the general depression in the army and to the
desperate condition of the people.

“One must not overemphasize the question of the morale of the army – it is, after all, a very
uncertain factor,” interposes Under-Secretary Haussmann.

The Vice-Chancellor supports him: “I do not see things quite so gloomily as His Excellency Herr
Scheidemann. If our note is framed in such a way that the people can gather that, though we are in a
difficult position, still we are not throwing up the sponge, then all is not yet lost.”

The Quartermaster-General makes a sudden movement: “The Vice-Chancellor has expressed my
own feelings. The whole question is, can we do it? 1can only repeat my request: Stir up the people!
Rouse them! Could not Herr Ebert do it?”

New factors are introduced.

The Chief of Staff, Colonel Heye, is reading out figures from which the sorely diminished
strength of the divisions on the Western Front and the steadily increasing superiority of the enemy
becomes only too evident.

General Ludendorff points out on the other hand, that the war weariness is growing in France
and the Allied countries also.

“Can the army still hold the enemy, or must we accept Wilson’s conditions? That is the question we have to answer.””

– Theodor Plivier, The Kaiser Goes, The Generals Remain. Translated by A. W. Wheen.  London: Faber & Faber, 1933. pp. 3-7

Painting is George Grosz, Zuhälter des Todes/The Pimps of Death (From “Gott mit uns”). 1919. Color photolithograph. 39,5 x 30 cm (15,6 x 11,8 in).

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