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Domestic Factors in German Foreign Policy before 1914

  • Wolfgang J. Mommsen


Gordon Craig recently deplored the fact that political history, and particularly diplomatic history, no longer attracts the attention of historians or the public as much as has been the case up to now. In his opinion there is no proper reason why this should be so; foreign relations and diplomacy matter very much indeed, and deserve to be studied by historians on their own merits, at least up to a point. However, there are valid reasons why diplomatic history nowadays is in a sort of crisis, and why more and more historians have come to believe that it is not enough to study the diplomatic files, however diligently this may be done, and to inquire about the deeds and motives of the fairly small groups that monopolize decision-making in foreign relations. Most historians nowadays are agreed upon the principle that foreign policy must be explained just as much by finding the social and economic factors conditioning it, as by analyzing the activities going on the level of official diplomacy.



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Revised and enlarged version of a paper read to the Conference of the Anglo-German Group of Historians at the Institute of Historical Studies in London on November 13, 1971. For helpful criticism as well as many suggestions I am indebted to Volker Berghahn, Paul Kennedy, Anthony Nicholls, Hartmut Pogge-v. Strandmann, and John Röhl.

1. Craig, Gordon A., “Political and Diplomatic History,” in Historical Studies Today, ed. Gilbert, Felix and Graubard, Stephen R. (New York, 1972), pp. 356ff. (first published in Daedalus in 1971).

2. For a more systematic treatment of this issue see Rothfels, Hans, Gesellschaftsform und auswärtige Politik (Laupheim, 1956), and, more recently, the contributions to this problem in Die anachronistische Souveränität. Zum Verhältnis von Innen- und Aussenpolitik, ed. Ernst-Otto Czempiel (Sonderheft 1 of the Politische Vierteljahrsschrift, 1969). See also Bracher, Karl Dietrich, “Kritische Betrachtungen über den Primat der Aussenpolitik,” in Faktoren der politischen Entscheidung. Festgabe für Ernst Fraenkel zum 65. Geburtstag (Berlin, 1963), pp. 115ff.

3. Kehr, Eckart, Der Primat der Innenpolitik, ed. Wehler, Hans-Ulrich (Berlin, 1965), p. 152.

4. Ibid., p. 155.

5. A good example can be found in Willibald Gutsche and Annelies Laschitzka, “Forschungen zur deutschen Geschichte von der Jahrhundertwende bis 1917,” Historische Forschungen in der DDR (Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaft, Sonderband, 1970), p. 476.

6. Cf. Lenin, , Selected Works (Moscow, 1967), I, 770.

7. The Stages of Economic Growth (Cambridge, 1968), pp. 106ff.

8. Deutschland im Ersten Weltkrieg, I: Vorbereitung, Entfesselung und Verlauf des Krieges bis Ende 1914, by an Autorenkollektiv under the leadership of Fritz Klein (Berlin, 1968).

9. Hallgarten, George Wolfgang, Imperialismus vor 1914 (2 vols.; 2nd ed., Munich, 1963).Idem, Das Schicksal des Imperialismus im 20. Jahrhundert (Frankfurt, 1969).

10. This approach is particularly well represented by the earlier works of Fritz Fischer and some of his students, in particular Imanuel Geiss and Klaus Wernecke. Most important in this respect are: Fischer, Fritz, Griff nach der Weltmacht. Die Kriegszielpolitik des kaiserlichen Deutschland 1914–1918 (3rd ed., Düsseldorf, 1968).Idem, Der Krieg der Illusionen. Die deutsche Politik von 1911 bis 1914 (Düsseldorf, 1969). Idem, Weltmacht oder Niedergang. Deutschland im Ersten Weltkrieg (Frankfurt, 1965). Geiss, Imanuel, “The Outbreak of the First World War and German War Aims,” Journal of Contemporary History, I (1966).Idem, Julikrise und Kriegsausbruch 1914. Eine Dokumentensammlung (2 vols., Hanover, 1963–1964). Strandmann, Hartmut Pogge-v. and Geiss, Imanuel, Die Erforderlichkeit des Unmöglichen. Deutschland am Vorabend des Ersten Weltkrieges (Frankfurt, 1965).Wernecke, Klaus, Der Wille zur Weltgeltung. Aussenpolitik und Öffentlichkeit im Kaiserreich am Vorabend des Ersten Weltkrieges (Düsseldorf, 1970). See also Mommsen, W. J., “The Debate on German War Aims,” Journal of Contemporary History, I (1966), 47ff.

11. Right now this is a very influential methodological approach. It has been taken up by a fairly wide range of scholars, though not always with the same degree of stringency and radicality. See in particular the more recent writings of Hans-Ulrich Wehler, Dirk Stegmann, Helmut Böhme, and with some limitations, Volker Berghahn: Wehler, Hans-Ulrich, Bismarck und der Imperialismus (Cologne, 1969).Idem, Krisenherde des Kaiserreichs 1871–1918 (Cologne, 1970). Idem, “Bismarcks Imperialismus und späte Russland-politik unter dem Primat der Innenpolitik,” in Das Kaiserliche Deutschland, ed. Michael Stürmer (Düsseldorf, 1970). Stegmann, Dirk, Die Erben Bismarcks. Parteien und Verbände in der Spätphase des Wilhelminischen Deutschlands. Sammlungspolitik 1897–1918 (Cologne, 1970).Böhme, Helmut, “Thesen zur Beurteilung der gesellschaftlichen, wirtschaftlichen und politischen Ursachen des deutschen Imperialismus,” in Der moderne Imperialismus, ed. Mommsen, Wolfgang J. (Stuttgart, 1971).Berghahn, Volker, “Zu den Zielen des deutschen Flottenbaus unter Wilhelm II.Historische Zeitschrft, CCX (1970).Idem, Der Tirpitzplan. Genesis und Verfall einer innenpolitischen Krisenstrategie unter Wilhelm II. (Düsseldorf, 1971). Idem, “Flottenrüstung und Machtgefüge,” in Das Kaiserliche Deutschland, ed. Stürmer.

12. Such an approach, although as a rule not applied to foreign policies as such, may be found with scholars like Gerhard A. Ritter, Hans-Günther Zmarzlik, John C. G. Röhl, Gustav Schmidt, and Hans-Jürgen Puhle. Cf. Ritter, Gerhard A., Kotowski, George, Pöls, Werner, Das Wilheminische Deutschland (Frankfurt, 1965).Zmarzlik, Hans-Günther, Bethmann Hollweg als Reichskanzler 1909–1914 (Bonn, 1957).Röhl, J. C. G., Germany without Bismarck (London, 1967).Idem, Zwei deutsche Fürsten zur Kriegsschuldfrage, Lichnowski, Eulenburg und der Ausbruch des Ersten Weltkrieges (Düsseldorf, 1971). In his more recent publications Röhl, however, stands somewhat closer to the Fischer camp. Puhle, Hans-Jürgen, “Parlament, Parteien und Interessenverbände 1890–1914,” in Das Kaiserliche Deutschland, ed Stürmer, . Gustav Schmidt, “Deutschland am Vorabend des Ersten Weltkrieges, ibid.

13. Das Schicksal des Imperialismus im 20. Jahrhundert, p. 140.

14. Ibid., p. 34.

15. For Wernecke's book see n. 10.

16. For a more detailed assessment of Fritz Fischer's views, as well as of their development, see Mommsen, “The Debate on German War Aims,” and idem, Die Deutsche ‘Weltpolitik’ und der Erste Weltkrieg,” Neue Politische Literatur, XVI (1971), 482ff.

17. Cf. Fischer, Fritz, Krieg der Illusionen, pp. 231ff. The account given by Röhl, John C. G.Admiral von Müller and the Approach to War 1911–1914,” Historical Journal, XII (1966), demonstrates that Walter Görlitz, the editor of the diaries of Admiral von Müller (cf. Der Kaiser, Aufzeichnungen des Chefs des Marinekabinetts Admiral Georg Alexander v. Müller über die Ära Wilhelms II. [Göttingen, 1965], pp. 124ff.), on which almost all our knowledge about this conference depends, omitted vital passages from the text, in particular the second half of the following passage, beginning with the words “aber er.” This passage clearly shows Moltke in favor of a preventive war: “Der Chef des Grossen Generalstabs sagt: Krieg je eher, desto besser, aber er zieht nicht die Konsequenz daraus, welche wäre: Russland oder Frankreich oder beide vor ein Ultimatum zu stellen, das den Krieg mit dem Recht auf unserer Seite entfesselte. Nachmittags an den Reichskanzler wegen der Pressebeeinflussung geschrieben”. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the whole conference was dominated by the assumption that war might break out at any moment (as, indeed, it might have, for Europe was at the very height of a serious Balkan crisis), and that one vital issue was how to justify in the eyes of the German public a European war on behalf of Austria-Hungary's desire to create a semi-independent Albania. Hence the suggestion of William II: “Nun gehen Sie ordentlich in die Presse,” according to Bethmann Hollweg's message for Kiderlen–Wächter of December 17, 1912. Die grosse Politik der europäischen Kabinette (Berlin, 19221927), XXXIX, No. 15553. Cited as GP.

18. As follows from the last document cited in n. 17, the chancellor learned not before December 16 that there had been a sort of “War Council”. Admiral von Müller apparently did not refer to the “conference” at all when he wrote on the afternoon of December 8 to the chancellor pointing out that something should be done to influence the press in order to bolster up public opinion in respect to the possibility of a European war on behalf of Austria-Hungary at that juncture. This would seem to indicate that von Müller was indeed of the opinion that the result of the conference had been “gleich null”! It is, by the way, not likely that von Müller would have led Bethmann Hollweg astray on purpose in this instance, as he usually acted as the chancellor's ally against Tirptiz.

19. Bethmann Hollweg succeeded in calming the emperor down by explaining that Grey's message was, after all, not all that disastrous, at least as long as Germany avoided all provocative steps (cf. memorandum of Hollweg, Bethmann of 12 18, 1912, Gp, XXXIX, no. 15560, pp. 9f.). He had already suggested to Tirpitz and Heeringen that they not launch an offical propaganda campaign for new armaments; cf. memorandum of December 14, 1912, ibid., No. 15623. It makes rather amusing reading to see that on this occasion the chancellor pointed out to both men: “Ich müsse aber mit allem Nachdruck verlangen, dass sie sich hinter meinem Rücken auch seiner Majestät gegenüber nicht bänden, dass von Vorarbeiten, die sie innerhalb ihrer Ressorts etwa vornähmen, auch nicht das geringste in die Öffentlichkeit dringen dürfe, und dass ich irgendwelche Pressetreiberei zugunsten der Projekte unter keinen Umständen dulden könne” (ibid., pp. 147f.).None of these gentlemen would seem to have dared taking recourse to the arguments put forward by William II a few days earlier at the so-called “War Council” of December 8, 1912!

20. Fischer's interpretation rests upon the unspoken assumption that Germany had a position of predominant economic influence in the Ottoman Empire to start with, and that it was confronted with increasing competiton by other industrial nations only in the last few years before 1914. In fact, all German enterprises in this area had been substantially dependent on assistance from the “Caisse de la Detta Publique,” Which was dominated by the French, and had been intimately associated with foreign, primarily French banking houses, in particular the Banque Ottomane. The earlier sections of the Bagbad Railway could not have been built without the substantial support of these groups. Cf. Blaisdell, Donald C., European Financial Control in the Ottoman Empire (New York, 1966), pp. 124ff. It may be further pointed out that the Germans succeeded in increasing their proportion of shares in the “Dette Publique” from an initial share of 8% to about 30% by 1914, and consequently their influence was substantially enhanced, although the French continued to be strongest group of shareholders. Cf. Poidevin, Raymond, Les Relations Economiques et Financieres entre la France et L'Allemagne de 1898 a 1914 (Paris, 1969), p. 697. The separation of the respective economic activities of the Western powers which took place in the Ottoman Empire after1909 did not necessarily imply an infringement on the German position. The treaty between a German and a French group on February 15, 1914, regarding their respective spheres of interest and economic engagement in the Ottoman Empire, as well as the agreement reached in March 1914 between the d'Arcy Group and the Deutsche Bank on the joint exploitation of the Mesopotamian and Anatolian oil fields, could have been more favorable to the German side, but the Deutsche Bank was thoroughly pleased with it. See, for instance, CP, XXXVII/1, No. 14888, p. 435. Fischer's presentation in Der Krieg der Illusionen, pp. 424ff., is rather misleading.

21. Bismarck und der Imperialismus, pp, 17ff., where Wehler presents his theory on a more general basis. Cf. my review of Wehler's book in this journal, II (1969), 366ff. See also Wehler's introduction to Imperialismus (“Neue Wissenschaftliche Bibliothek,” Cologne, 1970).

22. This point is made also by Böhme, Helmut, op. cit., pp. 39ff.

23. Op. cit., p. 150.

24. Böhme, op. cit., pp. 48f. Böhme argues that German imperialism must be understood as “der Versuch der Staatsleitung und der sie tragenden Gruppen und Interessen…, im Gegensatz zum Entwurf ‘des Sozialismus’, die sozialen Veränderungen der sich durch die rasante Industrialisierung rasch wandelnden Gesellschaft nicht mit einer grundlegenden Reform, der Umwälzung der Eigentumsverhältnisse zu lösen, sondern mit Hilfe der Ablenking auf Grossmacht– und Weltmachtpläne zu paralysieren, um auf diese Weise den innenpolitischen Status quo ohne Reformen zu erhalten”.

25. Cf. Berghanhn, , “Zu den Zielen des deutschen Flottenbaus,” pp. 34ff.Idem, Der Tirpitzplan, pp. 592ff. It may be mentioned that Berghahn maintains that Tirpitz's strategy had failed by 1909; from then on it would seem no longer to have been a major factor in German domestic politics, although Tirpitz continued to be popular with the parliamentary politicians.

26. This interpretation is to some extent in agreement with Berghahn, who also suggested in a recent article, Das Kaiserreich in der Sackgasse,” Neue Politische Literatur, XVI (1971), 497ff., that one ought to distinguish between a “kleine Sammlung,” as suggested by the agrarians and by heavy industry, and a “grosse Sammlung,” as pursued by Tirpitz and Bülow. It should be noted, however, that the difference is one not only of degree but of quality, in that the latter version sought to include the majority of the middle classes and the Center Party. Stegmann, of course, consistently confuses the two types of Sammlungspolitik, to the detriment of his argument.

27. For Bülow's intention to revitalize the “personal rule” of William II see Röhl, , Deutschland ohne Bismarck. Die Regierungskrise im Zweiten Kaiserreich 1890–1900 (Tübingen, 1969—the German ed. of the book referred to in n. 12), pp. 123f., 147f., 251ff. As early as 1896, shortly before he became Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Bülow confessed that the solution of the constitutional problems could be found only in a “Royalismus sans phrase” (ibid., p. 187). In 1897 he argued, “Ich lege den Hauptakzent auf die auswärtige Politik. Nur eine erfolgreiche Aussenpolitik kann helfen, versöhnen, beruhigen, sammeln, einigen” (ibid., p. 229). The antiparliamentary tendencies of Tirpitz's naval policies are documented by Berghahn, , “Zu den Zielen des deutschen Flottenbaus,” pp. 36ff., and Der Tirpitzplan, pp. 14ff.

28. Bülow to Tirpitz, December. 25, 1908, in Hammann, Otto, Bilder aus der letzten Kaiserzeit (Berlin, 1922), p. 148: “Ew. pp. enthalten sich aber einer Meinungsäusserung darüber, ob, angesichts der von Ihnen selbst hervorgehobenen derzeitigen grossen Überlegenheit der englischen Flotte über unsere Streitkräfte zur See—eine Überlegenheit, die überdies das englische Volk auch für die Zukunft unter allen Umständen aufrechtzuerhalten entschlossen scheint—es unseren Schlachtschiffen überhaupt möglich sein würde, entscheidend in Aktion zu treten. 1st aber die Befürchtung gerechtfertigt, dass unsere Flotte in ihrer gegenwärtigen Stärke von den übermächtigen englischen Seestreitkräften blockiert in unseren Hafen zurückgehalten werden würde, müssen wir mit der Wahrscheinlichkeit rechnen, in einem Seekrieg mit England vorläufig auf die Defensive angewiesen zu sein, so entsteht die Frage, ob sich nicht empfiehit, der Verbesserung unserer Küstenbefestigungen, der Vergrösserung unseres Bestandes an Seeminen und der Schaffung einer starken Unterseebootflotte unsere Aufmerksamkeit zuzuwenden, anstatt uns ausschliesslich auf die Vermehrung von Schlachtschiffen zu konzentrieren…”

29. Cf. Witt, Peter Christian, Die Finanzpolitik des Deutschen Reiches von 1903 bis 1913. Eine Studie zur Innenpolitik des Wilhelminischen Deutschland (Lübeck, 1970), pp. 303f.

30. In fact, imperialist issues had played a rather secondary role in the Conservative ideology so far. The Conservative Party up until then had always taken the official line in imperialist issues, rather than putting pressure on the government. Although the Bund der Landwirte adhered to a rather aggressive version of nationalism, the Conservatives had no concrete ideas as to what kind of imperialist policy should be pursued; when their own economic interests were likely to be involved they opposed rather than supported imperialist ventures. See also Puhle, Hans-Jürgen, Agrarische Interessenpolitik und preussischer Konservativismus (Hanover, 1966), pp. 96ff., 241f.

31. A detailed, if uninspired, account of these negotiations is given by Kessler, Alexander, Das deutsch–englische Verhāltnis vom Amtsantritt Bethmann Hollwegs bis zur Haldane Mission (Erlangen, 1938). See also Henning, Hans Joachim, Deutschlands Verhältnis zu England in Bethmann Hollweg's Aussenpolitik 1909–1914 (published doctoral thesis, Cologne, 1962).

32. See in particular Hollweg's, Bethmann memorandum for Kiderlen-Wächter, 04 5, 1911, GP, XXVIII, No. 10347, p. 409.

33. Cf. GP, XXIX, pp. 107108, note, and Kiderlen–Wächter's telegram for Schoen, June 30, 1911, where an allusion is made to his intention “das Marokkoproblem endgültigals endltig als Reibungsfläche aus der internationalen Politik auszuschalten,” ibid., No. 10578, p. 155. See also Bethmann Hollweg's declaration in the Reichstag on November 9, 1911: “Marokko war eine dauernd schwärende Wunde in unserem Verhältnis nicht nur zu Frankreich, sondern auch zu England”. Die Erledigung der Marokkoangelegenheit [reinige] auch in unseren Beziehungen zu England den Tisch.” Verhandlungen des Deutschen Reichstages, vol. 268, p. 7713 A, B.

34. This is demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt by Vagts, Alfred A., “M. M. Warburg & Co. Ein Bankhaus in der deutschen Weltpolitik 1905–1935,” Vierteljahrsschrift für Sozial–und Wirtschaftsgeschichte, XLV (1958), 253ff. Cf. the diaries of Dr. Regendanz, who acted as an agent for the German government, Pick, F. W., Searchlight on German Africa. The Diaries and Papers of Dr. Regendanz (London, 1939). See also Mortimer, Joanne St., “Commercial Interests and German Diplomacy in the Agadir Crisis”, Historical Journal, X (1967), who, however, substantially overrates the importance of the business groups behind Dr. Regendanz.

35. The frivolous press policies of Kiderlen–Wächter were heavily criticized by the Reichstag as early as 1912. Cf. debates in the Budget Committee, as well as the Reichstag debates on February 17, 1912, Verhandlungen des Reichstages, vol. 283, pp. 96Aff. A full account of Kiderlen–Wächter's press politics now in Wernecke, op. cit., pp. 26ff. Details as to Kiderlen-Wächter's negotiations with Class also in Die Bürgerlichen Parteien in Deutschland, ed. Fricke, Dieter et al. (Leipzig, 1970), I, 11f.

36. Cf. Kiderlen-Wächter's, memorandum for William II, 05 3, GP, XXIX, No. 10549, p. 108: “Unsere öffentliche Meinung würde mit alleiniger Ausnahme der Sozialdemokratischen Partei das einfache Geschehenlassen der Dinge im Scherifenreich der Kaiserlichen Regierung zum Vorwurf machen, während andererseits mit Sicherheit angenommen werden darf, dass praktische Ergebnisse manchen unzufriedenen wähler unstimmen und den Ausfall der bevorstehenden Reichstagswahlen vielleicht nicht unwesentlich beeinflussen würden.”

37. von Moltke, Helmuth, Erinnerungen, Briefe, Dokumente 1877–1916 (Darmstadt, 1922), p. 362.

38. Cf. Hollweg's, Bethmann speech in the Reichstag on 11 9, 1911, in Verhandlungen des Reichstages, vol. 268, p. 756A, and also his letter to Eisendecher of November 16, 1911, in Nachlass Eisendecher, 1/1–7, Politisches Archiv des Auswärtigen Amtes, Bonn: “Krieg für die Gebrüder Mannesmann wäre ein Verbrechen gewesen. Aber das deutsche Volk hat diesen Sommer so leichtfertig mit dem Kriege gespielt. Das stimmt mich ernst; dem musste ich entgegentreten. Auch auf die Gefahr, den Unwillen des Volkes auf mich zu laden.”

39. The Stages of Economic Growth, p. 116.

40. Cf. Mommsen, W. J., Max Weber und die deutsche Politik 1890–1914 (Tübingen, 1959), pp. 133–35.

41. He appealed, for instance, to men like Delbrück and Lamprecht to support the official scheme of a “Vermögensabgabe,” in order to find the financial means for the armament bill of 1913 in a politically acceptable form.

42. Cf. Bethmann Hollweg to Eisendecher, undated (July 1913), Nachlass Eisendecher, 1/1–7: “Der Kaiser ist wieder hochgradig nervös. Jeder törichte Beschluss, den die Reichstagskommission in der Wehrvorlage fasste, und es sind ihrer allerdings genug, reizt ihn aufs Äusserste und er möchte am liebsten jeden Tag auflösen oder doch mit der Auflösung drohen…ich kann mir nicht verhehlen, dass dem kaiser meine Art, Politik zu treiben, von Tag zu Tag unerträglichser wird.” See also Stenkewitz, Kurt, Gegen Bajonett und Dividende (Berlin, 1960), pp. 117f., and Westarp, Kuno Graf, Konservative Politik im letzten Jahrzehnt des Kaiserreichs, I (Berlin, 1935), 238.

43. This trend of affairs is reflected in the Reichstag debates about various motions which suggested a more precise definition of the sphere to which the Kommandogewalt was supposed to apply, on January 23, 1914, and May 5 and 6, 1914; Verhandlungen des Reichstages, vol. 252, pp. 6730ff., and vol. 294, pp. 8480ff. On May 6, 1914, von Falkenhayn, the new minister of war, defined the royal privileges in such a way as fully to justify the semi–independent positions of the Kaiserliches Militärkabinett as well as of the War Ministry with regard to the Reichstag: Die Befugnisse des Königs von Preussen gegenüber der bewaffneten Macht Preussens, sowie den ihr durch Konventionen angegliederten anderen Staaten sind in der Verfassung enthalten und ihr durch die Reichsverfassung erweitert, aber in keinem Punkte eingeschränkt worden. Seine Majestät der König und Kaiser übt diese Befugnisse innerhalb der Gesetze völlig selbständig aus. Ein Mitwirkungsrecht des Reichstages besteht dabei in keiner Weise, obschon natürlich nicht bestritten werden soll, dass der Reichstag Reichstag zuständig ist, bei seinen gesetzgeberischen Arbeiten seine Wünsche in Bezug auf das Militärwesen zur Sprache zu bringen.Verhandlungen des Reichstages, vol. 294, p. 8515B. See also Zmarzlik, op. cit., pp. 135f.

44. Cf. Rathenau, Walther, Tagebuch 1907–1922, ed. Strandmann, Hartmut Pogge-v. (Düsseldorf, 1967), p. 182.

45. “J. J. Ruedorffer” [Riezler, Kurt], Grundzüge der Weltpolitik (Berlin, 1913), p. 229.

46. Cf. Hollweg's, Bethmann speech in introducing the army bill on April 22, 1912, Verhandlungen des Reichstages, vol. 284, pp. 1300Bff.

47. This strategy is perhaps revealed most clearly in a letter of Jagow's to Eisendecher of July 24, 1913, Nachlass Eisendecher.

48. A satisfactory study of this aspect of German politics is lacking so far. Some useful information may be gathered from Vagts, op. cit. Up to now we have had to rely on Poidevin (above, n. 20) and a survey by Zorn, Wolfgang, “Wirtschaft und Politik im deutschen Imperialismus,” in Wirtschaft, Geschichte und Writschaftsgeschichte, Festschrift zum 65. Geburtstag von Friedrich Lütge (Stuttgart, 1966), pp. 340ff.

49. Cf. Böhme, op. cit., pp. 42f.

50. Rathenau, Walther, “Deutsche Gefahren und neue Ziele,” in Gesammelte Schriften. Zur Kritik der Zeit, Mahnung und Warnung (Berlin, 1925), pp. 272, 276. Cf. also idem, Tagebuch, pp. 168f., containing notes about a discussion on this topic with Bethmann Hollweg.

51. Fischer argues that Bethmann Hollweg acceded to the idea of a Central European Economic Association under German leadership as early as 1912; it seems doubtful, however, that Rathenau's note “Bethmann allgemein einverstanden” indicates anything more than a vague sympathy with these ideas. There is, in fact, no indication that the decisions of the government were influenced at all by such ideas. Fischer, Fritz suggested in his article, “Weltpolitik, Weltmachtstreben und deutsche Kriegsziele,” Historische Zeitschrift, vol. 199 (1964), pp. 324ff., as well as in his Der Krieg der Illusionen, pp. 368ff., that the “Mitteleuropapläne” and the plans for a German Central Africa were but two sides of the same coin. It would seem to the present author that Zechlin's, Egmont objections to this interpretation, in “Deutschland zwischen Kabinetts–und Wirtschaftskrieg,” Historische Zeitschrift, vol. 199 (1964), pp. 398ff. are on the whole correct. Fischer's reply in Der Krieg der Illusionen, pp. 529f., is rather unconvincing. Even in September 1914 the Reichsamt des Innern thought that such plans were unrealistic, and suggested that the existing system of bilateral trade treaties should be continued.

52. See, for instance, Jagow to Lichnowsky on January 23, 1913, GP, XXXIV/1, No. 12718.

53. Cf. Bethmann Hollweg to Lerchenfeld, June 6, 1914 (author's translation): “…the emperor had not undertaken a preventive war, and neither was he going to do so. There were, however, circles in the empire who assume that a war might lead to a healthier state of affairs in Germany—in the conservative sense. He—the chancellor—thinks that on the contrary a world war with all its unpredictable consequences is likely to enhance the power of the Social Democrats—as they are preaching peace—tremendously, and might lead to the destruction of some thrones.” Bayrische Dokumente zum Kriegsausbruch und zum Versailler Schuldspruch, ed. Dirr, Pius (4th ed., Munich, 1928), No.1, p. 113.

54. Griff nach der Weltmacht, pp. 59ff.; Der Krieg der Illusionen, pp. 85ff., 182, and passim.

55. Bethmann Hollweg's own position may be gathered from his memorandum for Kiderlen-Wächter of April 5, 1911; GP, XXVIII, No. 10441, pp. 408f.

56. Compare above, pp. 12–14, and nn. 17–19.

57. Cf. von Hötzendorf, Conrad, Aus meiner Dienstzeit, 1906–1918 (Vienna, 19211923), III, 670.

58. A detailed account is given by Wernecke, op. cit., pp. 244ff. There is, however, absolutely no evidence to support Wernecke's and Fischer's contention that this “press war” was staged deliberately in order to prepare the German public for war. Cf. Der Krieg der Illusionen, pp. 542ff.

59. For the opposition of the Conservatives see Westarp, , Konservative Politik, I, 182ff. The repeated attempts of the Conservatives in the Reichstag after 1913 to blame the government for its weak attitude toward the Social Democrats were mainly designed to undermine Bethmann Hollweg's prestige within the establishment. For the Gebsattel affair see H. Pogge–v. Strandmann, Erforderlichkeit des Unmöglichen, pp. 16–31.

60. Cf. Moltke's talk with Jagow in May or June 1914, published by Zechlin, Egmont, “Motive und Taktik der Reichsleitung 1914,” Der Monat, XVIII, No. 209 (02 1966), pp. 9293.

61. Vagts, “M. M. Warburg” (above, n. 34), p. 353.

62. Cf. Riezler Diary, entry of July 25, 1914. Now published in Riezler, Kurt, Tagebücher, Aufsätze, Dokumente, ed. Erdmann, Karl Dietrich (Göttingen, 1972). Heydebrandt's statement, to which Bethmann Hollweg referred during July 1914, must have been made some time before that date, as Heydebrandt was not in Berlin then, and was politically inactive for the time being.

63. ibid.

64. Statement to Lerchenfeld, quoted above, n. 53.

65. This is indicated by a remark of Moltke's to Conrad, in which he tried to explain why the German government was reluctant to act upon the idea of a preventive war. Moltke complained that “we always expect a declaration of neutrality from Great Britain which she, however, will never give.” Cf. von Hötzendorf, Conrad, op. cit., III, 670. In May or June 1914 Jagow took a similar line, insofar as he argued against Moltke's plea for a preventive war and that it would be wiser to sit back. Owing to the improving relations with Great Britain, a European war had become less likely, and, at any rate, would possibly be less serious. See n. 60.

66. GP, XXXIX, No. 18883, pp. 628ff.

67. Contrary to Albertini and Fischer, the German government did not base its political strategy on the assumption that Great Britain would remain neutral in the case of a major European war, although it naturally attempted to do its best to bring it about when the crisis came. In the secret debate in the Budget Committee of the Reichstag on April 24, 1913, Bethmann Hollweg pointed out clearly that Germany could not count on British neutrality in case of war. Cf. Groh, Dieter, “Die geheimen Sitzungen der Reichshaushaltskommission am 24. und 25. April 1913,” Internationale Wissenschaftliche Korrespondenz zur Geschichte der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung, No. 11/12 (04 1971). On June 5, 1914, Bethmann Hollweg said to Bassermann: “…wenn es Krieg mit Frankreichgibt, marschiert der letzte Engländer gegen uns.” Cf. Bassermann's letter to Schiffer, June 5, 1914, Nachlass Schiffer 6, Hauptarchiv Berlin. This is also confirmed by Lerchenfeld's report of June 4, 1914: “Was England betrifft, so lauteten seine [i.e., Bethmann Hollweg's] Ausführungen ungefähr dahin: Zu allen Zeiten habe die britische Macht immer gegen die stärkste Macht auf dem Kontinent gestanden. Zuerst gegen Spanien, dann gegen Frankreich, später gegen Russland und jetzt gegen Deutschland. England wolle keinen Krieg. Er—der Reichskanzler—wisse bestimmt, dass die englische Regierung in Paris wiederholt erklärt habe, dass sie keine provokatorische Politik und keinen vom Zaungebrochenen Krieg gegen Deutschland mitmache. Aber das hindere nicht, dass, wenn es zum Kriege käme, wir England nicht auf unserer Seite finden würden.” Cf. Bayrische Dokumente zum Kriegsausbruch, No. 1, p. 112. As early as December 1912 the chancellor had held a similar position, as can be gathered from a letter to Eisendecher, December 18, 1912, and Bethmann Hollweg's memorandum for William II, December 18, 1912, GP, XXXIX, No. 15560.

68. Hence, it is not the effect of the Anglo–Russian naval negotiations on foreign relations as such, as in particular Zechlin argues—cf. “Deutschland zwischen Kabinetts– und Wirtschaftskrieg” (above, n. 51), pp. 348ff.—that really matters, but rather its effect on the domestic situation.

69. Report of Koester, July 20, 1914, Deutsche Gesandtschaftsberichte zum Kriegsausbruch 1914. Berichte und Telegramme der badischen, sächsischen und württembergischen Gesandten aus dem Juli und August 1914, ed. August Bach for the Auswärtige Amt (Berlin, 1937), No. 5.

70. See also Fischer, Fritz, Der Krieg der Illusionen, pp. 688–89.

71. Cf. a report by Haussmann, February 24, 1918, quoted in Steglich, Wolfgang, Die Friedenspolitik der Mittelmächte 1917/18, I (Wiesbaden, 1964), 418.

72. It is impossible in this context to give a full account of the political calculations of the German government in July 1914. I hope to do this in a forthcoming study, Die Politik des Reichskanzlers von Bethmann Hollweg als Problem der politischen Führung. In the meantime, the reader may be referred to Mommsen, Wolfgang J., Das Zeitalter des Imperialismus (Frankfurt, 1968), pp. 272ff., and “Die latente Krise des Wilhelminischen Reiches 1909–1914,” Handbuch der deutschen Geschichte, ed. Just, Leo, Section IV, II (Frankfurt, 1972). As regards the German Intention to consider the Serbian issue a “Prüfstein” of Russia's Warlike intentions, see Hoyo's notes about his interview with Naumann, Victor, in Österreich–Ungarns Aussenpolitik, ed. Bittner, L. (Vienna and Leipzig, 1930), VIII, No. 9966, and von Tirpitz, Alfred, Erinnerungen (Leipzig, 1919), p. 227.

73. Diary, Riezler, entry of July 23, 1914.

74. It has been argued time and again, in particular by Fritz Fischer and Imanuel Geiss, that the plan to isolate the Serbian war was not only a gross illusion, but was little else than a convenient pretext. It would seem, however, that the inner circle around Bethmann Hollweg did indeed believe in the possibility of getting along without a European “conflagration,” as the chancellor used to put it. That this assumption was at any rate subjectively honest is borne out, for instance, by calculations in governmental quarters that, provided the crisis passed without a European war, Germany might even conclude an alliance with Russia, at the expense of Austria–Hungary. Cf. Riezler Diary, entry of an alliance with Russia, at the expense of Austria–Hungary. Cf. Riezler Diary, entry of July 23, 1914, and the statement of Bethmann Hollweg to Theodor Wolff on February 5, 1915, which confirms Riezler's notes: “Ich habe Sasonow dann während der Krise—dies ganz unter uns—sagen lassen, er möge doch die Österreicher ihre Strafexpedition machen lassen, der Moment würde kommen, wo wir uns arrangieren würden. Natürlich nicht auf dem Rücken der Österreicher, aber gewissermassen auf ihren Schultern.” Wolff, Theodor, Der Marsch durch zwei Jahrzehnte (Berlin, 1936), p. 442.

75. Diary, Riezler, entry of July 14, 1914.

76. In a way the Social Democrats must be excluded insofar as the government approached Haase, and a few days later the Parteivorstand, although only Südekum was available. With regard to the negotiations of the government with the Social Democrats, there is a controversial literature which may be superseded by the forthcoming study of Groh, Dieter, Negative Integration und revolutionärer Attentismus. Die deutsche Sozialdemokratie am Vorabend des 1. Weltkrieges 1909–1914 (Berlin, 1973). In the meantime, see his The Unpatriotic Socialists and the State,” Journal of Contemporary History, I (1966), and Negative Integration und revolutionärer Attentismus,” Internationale wissenschaftliche Korrespondenz zur Geschichte der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung, No. 15 (1972). Little is known about contacts of the leading members of the bourgeois parties with the government. Westarp reports that he paid a few visits to the Wilhelmstrasse during the crisis, but apparently he was not told much (cf. Konservative Politik, I, 407). Heydebrandt, the leader of the Prussian Conservatives, was as late as August 3 still totally uninformed about what had been going on on the diplomatic stage (cf. letter of Heydebrandt to Westarp, August 3, 1914, Heydebrandt–Westarp correspondence; I am indebted for this information to Freiherr Hiller von Gärtringen, University of Tübingen).

77. With regard to the attitude of the parties toward Bethmann Hollweg's policies in July 1914 we still have to rely largely on guesswork. Their overall attitude can nonetheless be rather clearly ascertained. The Conservatives were all in favor of a “forward policy”; it was, however, only fairly late that they actually began to press for war. It would seem that in the first weeks of July the Post, a leading conservative newspaper, was rather reluctant to join the chorus of pro–Austrian voices (cf. Scott, Jonathan French, Five Weeks. The Surge of Public Opinion at the Eve of the Great War [New York, 1932], pp. 138, 191ff.). The National Liberals wished to have the energetic Tirpitz as chancellor rather than Bethmann Hollweg (cf. Bassermann to Schiffer, June 5, 1914, cited above, n. 67). They surely would have welcomed a policy which seemed to act upon the allegedly extremely successful strategy followed during the Bosnian crisis of 1908 once again. The Center Party, on the other hand, was since 1912 definitely in favor of any policy which was avowedly designed to assist Austria–Hungary. It is therefore not surprising to see that the Catholic press also took a similar line in the July crisis (cf. Caroll, E. Malcolm, Germany and the Great Powers, 1866–1914 [New York, 1938], pp. 747ff.).


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