Printer Friendly

The German Idea of Militarism; Radical and Socialist Critics, 1866-1914.

* Throughout the nearly five decades of its existence, the Prussian-German Empire bore a military stamp. Army officers enjoyed high social standing and privileged access to the corridors of power. Historians have written of a tendency within the German political elite to conceive of policy -- both domestic and foreign -- in military terms.

The deep impact of militarism on civilian life in Prussia was borne out in 1906, when a shoemaker and ex-convict masquerading in the uniform of a Prussian infantry captain succeeded in taking over a town hall, arresting the municipal authorities and commandeering the municipal treasury. All of this had helped to nourish the widespread view that Germany's political culture was conspicuously -- perhaps even uniquely -- militaristic.

In The German Idea of Militarism, Nicholas Stargardt sets out to show that there was another side to the coin of German militarism. The term itself was derogatory -- its currency in the German context testifies to a lively tradition of anti-militarist critique. Focusing on Social Democrat theory and policy, Stargardt reconstructs the development of `militarism' as a conceptual tool in the socialist critique of the existing political, social and economic order.

Until the turn of the century, Social Democrat responses to the problem were dominated by the Marxist reductionism of Kautsky, who saw militarism as a mechanism installed for the purpose of consolidating capitalism, and thus a side-issue in the class struggle against the capitalist system. Only with Karl Liebknecht's Militarism and Anti-Militarism of 1907 did the Socialists produce a critique that was sensitive to the formidable cultural, social and psychological power of military institutions.

These and other developments in Social Democrat political thought helped pave the way to the phenomenally successful pacifist campaigns of the immediate pre-war years. Fortunately, Stargardt does not skirt the vexed question of why, despite this decisive turn in policy, the Social Democrats voted for war credits in August 1914. He shows that, for all their commitment to the `International', German socialists (like their French counterparts) remained patriots who viewed foreign policy and security issues from a national perspective.

In one of the book's most compelling passages, Stargardt demonstrates that a traditional fear and hatred of Russia as the bastion of reaction and `backwardness', and a willingness to see Russia as the aggressor in 1914 helped the majority of SPD leaders to reconcile themselves with the vote for war credits. Stargardt's lucid and thoughtful study provides a persuasive reconstruction and interpretation of a complex and changeful episode in the intellectual history of the German left.

The eleven articles in Richard Overy's War and Economy in the Third Reich represent the fruit of twenty years of research and writing on the German economy under Hitler. Most are slightly revised reprints of journal articles and book-chapters; two, including a study of relations between the Nazi regime and the armaments magnate Gustav Krupp, are published here for the first time. The two opening essays oppose the once widely-held view that rearmament was the chief concern of Nazi economic policy during the early years of the regime. Indeed, he argues, the regime's insistence on eliminating unemployment as quickly as possible may in the longer term have damaged the capacity of the German economy to sustain the enormous burdens of industrialised warfare.

Here Overy is at odds with the view that re-armament was central to early economic recovery but became less important after 1936, when output of weapons was constrained by the need to sustain civilian morale by preventing a fall in living standards. Some historians have suggested that the Blitzkrieg idea was evolved by the German military in response to such constraints as a mode of rapid-strike warfare that would achieve maximum destructive effect at least economic cost to the German civilian.

By contrast, the sixth essay argues that 1936 marked the transition to a policy of `rearmament in depth' designed to prepare Germany for the strains of total war. Neither in the economic nor in the military sphere (essay eight) was German policy dominated by the concept of Blitzkrieg. Hitler was not preparing for a short, sharp, limited war, but rather for its exact opposite ... a massive and long-term war of the continents from which Germany would emerge either victorious or destroyed'.

The Blitzkrieg thesis implied that Germany entered the war in 1939 utterly unprepared for the protracted struggle that would follow. The real transition to `total war', so the argument goes, came in 1942, when a massive transfer of resources from the civilian to the military economy produced the `production miracle' of German wartime armaments production. But Overy is able to show (in an essay published here for the first time) that the increased output resulted less from resource transfer than from measures introduced under Armaments Minister Alber Speer to improve German efficiency.

Despite the range of issues covered and the chronological span of the compilation, this book has impressive coherence and focus. The essays are linked by larger underlying arguments about the character and political intentions of the Nazi regime, and the introduction will help readers to place them in context. Overy has the happy knack of combining deep and prolonged immersion in the primary sources with an admirably spare and limpid style of exposition. Even when the subject matter is technical the writing is always enlivened by the sense that one is scaling the battlements of received wisdoms.

The third book under review focuses on the role of the United States in shaping the political culture and the social texture of the Federal Republic. This edited volume, drawing on the work of a number of well-known American and German scholars, sets out to assess the extent to which the west German republic was `Americanised' during the first post-war decade. Thomas Schwartz offers a nuanced and generally affirmative assessment of US democratisation policy in western Germany, while remaining sensitive to the ambiguities implicit in America's double role as occupier and re-educator.

On a more critical note, Carolyn Eisenberg analyses the efforts of the American administration to lay the foundations for a market capitalist economy by establishing a stable and moderate labour movement in the western zones. US labour policy, she concludes, was directed not only at preventing communist penetration, but also at blocking the realisation of Social Democrat policies such as worker co-determination. In a suggestive study of German attitudes in the early post-war years, Norbert Frei shows that American administrators and journalists were a great deal more concerned with the moral and political burdens of the Nazi past than the Germans themselves. Not until the 1960s did West Germany begin that process of collective agonising that has come to be known as Vergangenbeits-bewaltigung (mastering the past).

Generally speaking, these essays produce rather muted assessments of the American impact on West German society. Volker Berghahn and Michael Ermath offer two case studies which highlight the `anti-western' animus still prevalent amongst the German social elite. In one of the book's most engaging contributions, Arnold Sywottek demonstrates that there was no wholesale `Americanization' of everyday life. German cigarettes, baking powder, detergents and instant coffees quickly drove out those US brand names that had inundated the country through CARE packages, and the innovative styles of the German 1950s home owed more to Finnish textiles, Danish furniture design and Swedish utensils than to American models.

Relativising the social and political impact of the occupation may have important implications for our periodisation of modern German history. This issue is taken up by Stefan Woller, who argues that the transition to a post-war German society began not in 1945, but in early 1943, when the collapse of the Sixth Army at Stalingrad opened the door to a `levelled-off, pluralistic, makeshift society [in which] the outline of the later Federal Republic could already be discerned'. This is a suggestive thesis, but one that would require much better support and more rigorous definition than it receives here to be persuasive.

The volume also includes a number of personal recollections by Americans who were `on the job' in early post-war Germany. These are all entertaining and informative; particularly memorable is Frank D. Horvay's intelligent and evocative account of denazification in Ansbach.
COPYRIGHT 1996 History Today Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Clark, Christopher
Publication:History Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1996
Previous Article:Catholic and Reformed: The Roman and Protestant Churches in English Protestant Thought, 1600-1640.
Next Article:War and the Economy in the Third Reich.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters