Uniting Germany

Jack Conrad examines the struggle for the centralised and democratic republic

While it does not represent a direct parallel with Europe in the 21st century and the European Union, there are nonetheless valuable lessons - theoretical and programmatic - to be drawn from the fight for German unity in the 19th century. This is particularly so because Germany was the birthplace and revolutionary testing ground of Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels and remained a key point of ongoing intellectual interest and political activity during their permanent exile in Britain. Admittedly, given the division of labour that existed between the two men, much of what we shall quote comes under the name of Engels. Yet they communicated with each other virtually daily and worked so closely together that to all intents and purposes they formed a single identity. Therefore when one says 'Engels' one might just as well say 'Marx' - or even better 'Marx and Engels'. Having underlined that particular point, we shall move on. When Marx and Engels began their lifelong partnership, Germany was woefully backward, compared with France, Belgium, Holland and, above all, Britain. Everywhere there was putrefaction, oppression and benightedness. No state education, no free press, no public spirit, no extended commerce with other countries. Migrants were Germany's biggest export - labourers but especially prostitutes. Internal disputes and wars of foreign intervention were endemic. The people suffered from the double burden of government over-taxation and lack of government spending. Nothing worked. Protracted decline was caused in part, and was definitely exacerbated by, the division of Germany into dozens of rival absolutist states ranging from the medium to the micro. A fragmentation that went hand in hand with different currencies and different weights and measures. Customs posts were everywhere. In short Germany desperately required radical unification. Without unity there could be neither capitalist progress nor hope for working class rule - so reasoned Marx and Engels. The tasks of national unification and social revolution therefore interweave. Germany was a cultural expression reflecting a common language and common historical experience, but not a unified politico-economic unit. During medieval times this was, of course, true for most of western and central Europe. Feudalism is characteristically decentralisation and fragmentation in extremis. Only England - because of the thoroughgoing nature of the 1066 conquest - constituted a partial exception. Present-day nation-states such as Spain, France and Italy counted as little more than geographical terms and even relatively stable kingdoms were cut across by countless and often overlapping feudal domains. Hence it is misleading to speak of 'French kings' in this period. Better kings of France and their aristocratic vassals. Standard national histories which project modern borders and contemporary notions of nationhood back into the mists of time owe everything to recent invention and subsequent narrow-minded prejudice, nothing to the truth. For example, the feudal social location and outlook of the 'English king' Henry II is more accurately and evocatively rendered as Henri II, king of England ... and putative overlord of adjoining realms such as Scotland, Wales and Ireland, besides being duke of Brittany, Normandy, Anjou, Maine, Toraine and Aquitaine. Not surprisingly later kings of England claimed the crown of France. Certainly if anyone had dared call Henry II English to his face such an appellation would either be met with blank incomprehension or taken for sheer ignorance. Henri's everyday language was Norman French, his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, originated from France and his main source of revenue derived from the extensive and wealthy fiefs in France. Meanwhile the humble subjects of the house of Anjou spoke not only the various patois of early English but numerous other mother tongues - ranging from Gaelic in the far northern domains to Provenà§al in the deep south. Germany displayed the same chequered feudal pattern. Take the empire of the Salians (1024-1125). It was a conglomeration of kingdoms and principalities, duchies and marches, church lands and free towns, each with their own political structure, legal standards and customs. Furthermore this 'German' empire incorporated Slav lands to the east, Burgundy to the south west and the whole of northern Italy. The imperium was therefore made up of an official 'trias' - Germany, Italy and Burgundy. Equally to the point, the royal house presented themselves - to themselves and to the outside world - as the legitimate inheritors and continuation of Roman civilisation. In a word they ruled the Holy Roman Empire. During the late medieval period Germany ranked as an advanced feudalism. Besides cutting edge improvements in agricultural and mining technique, guild industry produced amongst the best in ecclesiastical and secular luxury - gold and silver, sculpture and engraving, wood carving and armour. Towns prospered and grew rich. The trade league - cemented between Lubeck, Hamburg, Wismar and Rostock in 1259 - ensured a grip over Baltic maritime trade and sucked in a differential profit from Pomerania, Sweden, Courtland and Novgorod. However, as Engels observed, in the 16th century relative decline is unmistakable. Germany found itself strategically bypassed. Once northern Europe's trade route to India and the far east went through Rhineland Germany. Then Vasco da Gama discovered the Cape and a much cheaper way to access the abundant riches of the Indian Ocean. Portugal, Holland and then England seized control of Atlantic trade. In France, England, northern Italy and the lowlands serfdom lay dead. Moreover the tendency to parcelise power and the unproductive extraction of surplus associated with feudalism was replaced by strong, centralised states or mercantile capitalism and, in the case of England, a self-generating agrarian capitalism. Germany fell progressively behind. When the steam-powered industrial revolution took off in Britain the traditional manufactures of Germany faced extinction. 'Old Germany' - the Holy Roman Empire - was founded in 962 and lasted till 1806. Quixotic Roman empireship ideologically ruled out any goal of German unification from above and dissipated energies and resources in fruitless campaigns of Italian conquest (reminiscent of the feudal monarchies in England and their countless attempts to re-establish themselves in France). To cap it all, the German religious revolution proved inconclusive. Protestant imperial knights, free towns and the peasant masses failed to unite their efforts against the common catholic enemy. The empire was nevertheless reduced to a shell and as such fell into the hands of feudal princes, barons and dukes. Their centralising power overwhelmed the centralism of the whole. Over these hardening petty divisions Germany now found itself cleaved into hostile theological zones - a predominantly protestant north, a predominantly catholic but mixed southwest, and an exclusively catholic southeast. Here Germany shows an opposite pattern to France and England. France crushed the protestant Huguenots in 1685. England broke with Rome under Henry VIII. Both powers were therefore essentially mono-religious. Aside from the obvious advantage of cohesion that this brought, the "eventual suppression" of protestantism was, comments Engels, "no misfortune". Instead of protestantism France got enlightenment thinkers such as Voltaire and Diderot. Anti-clericalism is the other France and stands today as the dominant intellectual tradition. Being a precursor, the English form of development is in many ways comparatively primitive. The official protestantism of the Tudor and Stuart monarchs was catholicism without the pope. Put another way - semi-catholic. Engels mockingly describes England's universities, colleges and public schools as being "protestant monasteries" (F Engels CW Vol 23, London 1988, p608). Real protestantism in England came in the form of the Lollards, puritans and methodists. Yet there is still no theoretically rigorous mass tradition of anti-clericalism, let alone atheism - a definite misfortune. Religious divisions and the hollowing out of the Holy Roman Empire turned Germany into the main battle ground for the contending protestant and catholic powers in the 16th and 17th centuries. The pope, the Spanish and Austrian Hapsburgs, the German catholic princes fought it out with the protestant German states and their backers in Bohemia, Denmark, Sweden and the Dutch Republic. The result of the Thirty Years War (1618-46) was the plunder and ruination of Germany. The treaty of Westphalia in 1648 sealed the political-theological dismemberment of Germany. The German empire became a byword for disunity and ineffectiveness. Outside powers too gained the right to freely intervene as they saw fit. One ray of light existed amidst the mordant decline. High intellectual life flourished. Handel, Mozart, Goethe, Schiller, Kant and Fichte. A short while later Beethoven and Hegel. German economic and social backwardness found its opposite in music, literature and philosophy, which served as kind of hope. After Copernicus, Galileo and Newton, catholicism hardly deserves to be taken seriously as an object of criticism. It could be defeated by invective and ridicule alone. On the other hand German protestantism was "worth criticising". It could only be overcome "scientifically" - that is, in the words of Engels, "explained historically" - a feat which is in actual fact beyond the natural sciences (F Engels CW Vol 23, London 1988, p608). Hence Ludwig Feuerbach and the 'Thesis on Feuerbach'. Where Britain forged itself into a nation with a common economy binding its peoples together, Germany languished in fragmentation. Each principality and duchy acted independently of the other. They were all formally subject to the power of the emperor - if there was one - and the diet (consisting of deputations of the petty states it was intended to keep the emperor in check). However, the emperor increasingly became ever more a fiction and the diet never did anything positive - its deliberations were laughably insignificant. The diet spent its time engaged in endless futile disputes between the embassy of baron so-and-so (consisting perhaps of his son's tutor and an old servant) and the embassy of some other noble over who should have ceremonial precedence. There were thousands of little privileges which were considered points of honour and therefore quarrelled over with the utmost obstinacy. German passivity condemned it to the predatory designs of its more dynamic neighbours, crucially France. To further its own ends catholic France was quite prepared to finance German protestant princes. It was not uncommon to find that when the German empire declared itself at war (with the traditional enemy, France) some of the petty states took the other side. The French-speaking areas on the western bank of the Rhine were hacked away. Burgundy, then the three bishoprics of Metz, Toul and Verdun, and the rest of Lorraine, then parts of Flanders and Alsace were separated off and joined to France. In a similar manner Switzerland was allowed to break away and become independent and Belgium was handed over to Spain by the legacy of Charles V: they all fared better apart from Germany. Germany was in a blind ally. Remnants of feudalism still held sway everywhere and serfdom was rigorously reinforced in the east. The nobility were brutal bloodsuckers. For the serfs that meant labour services, tributes, land-sale taxes, death taxes, protection money, etc. Besides taxes the serfs were expected to hand over an inexhaustible supply of female flesh without complaint. Either that or earn a savage beating. Every attempt at revolt was brutally crushed. Armies were routinely quartered on them. The emperor showed no concern for the peasants or the internal life of the petty states. What of the so-called free cities? They were hardly beacons of liberty. The burgomaster and a caste of self-selected senators ruled like tyrants. Cheated and robbed by the princes, the bourgeois class tried to profit from the chaos. They righted the wrongs done to them by their oppressors by cheating and robbing in turn. If they had put themselves at the head of the people they might have been able to refound the country, as did the bourgeoisie between 1640 and 1688 in England and the French in 1789. But the German bourgeoisie lacked the courage. Engels seethed with contempt. He compared them to shit or, in polite translation, dung: "Germany is nothing but a dunghill, but they [the bourgeoisie] were comfortable in the dung because they were dung themselves, and were kept warm by the dung about them" (F Engels CW Vol 6, New York 1976, p17). French revolution The 1789 French revolution acted like a thunderbolt - not upon the mass of the people in Germany, but the middle classes and sections of the nobility. But their enthusiasm was, said Engels, "theoretical". Once the French revolution moved to its most extreme stage with the fall of the Girondists, as those below exerted the maximum pressure, joy gave way to hostility. "Germany was converted to a fanatic hatred against the revolution" (F Engels CW Vol 6, New York 1976, p18). The bourgeoisie preferred a quiet life in the dunghill to the dangerous activity of the common people in France. But the days of the Holy Roman Empire were numbered. The revolutionary armies of France marched straight into the heart of Germany and made the Rhine the frontier of France. France preached liberty and equality. Nobles, abbots and princes fled in droves. Once Napoleon Bonaparte became the democracy with a "single head", after the month of Thermidor 1794, he poured armies into Germany time and time again. Napoleon dissolved the Holy Roman Empire with his stunning wars of conquest and sweeping reorganisation of Europe. Christian-Germanic society died. Napoleon was "always revolutionary vis-à -vis the princes" (F Engels CW Vol 23, London 1988, p603). In Germany new larger states were formed under his sponsorship. The code Napoléon was exported to them - a code which enshrined equality before the law and which was infinitely superior to the feudal law that had previously crippled Germany. Napoleon tried to unify Europe from above, using diktat and brute force - he was a civilised Adolf Hitler. Not surprisingly, though he shattered the anciens régimes in Germany, Spain and Italy, his methods alienated those whom he had freed. In Germany the peasants resented the taxes and the recruitment of their sons into Napoleon's armies. In their minds France became associated with atheism and wickedness. The bourgeoisie were even more parochial. The embargo against British goods might lay the basis for a future German manufacturing industry, but it meant certain imports were unavailable - Engels cites coffee. Disappointed by their lack of revolutionary zeal, he tore into all classes. The peasants must be, he said, "the most stupid set of people in existence". German students and the run-of-the-mill intellectuals hardly fared better. As to the bourgeoisie, they merely wanted to buy cheap and sell dear ... and drink unadulterated coffee. Nevertheless Engels has to admit that, where before there had only been self-interest, a German national consciousness appeared. As an aside it is worth mentioning the reactionary anti-imperialism of Andreas Hofer. He was the leader of peasant guerrilla war against the French army in Tyrol in 1809. Shades, one might say, of Hamas, bin Laden, the Taliban, etc. Years later Hofer had evolved into something of a folk hero amongst republicans and democrats in Britain. They would toast his memory and cheer his name. Engels was fed up with such nonsense and sought to put the record straight. He roundly condemned Hofer and his backward-looking programme. Hofer was a "stupid, ignorant, bigoted, fanatical peasant". He fought for the "church and emperor", for the paternal despotism of Rome and Vienna. Yes, he fought bravely, but, as Engels pointed out, so did the counterrevolutionary French peasantry, the Vendeans (F Engels CW Vol 6, New York 1976, p26). Engels contrasted him to Thomas Münzer, the leader of the peasant insurrection of 1525. He was worthy of being toasted and cheered. Britain, Austria, Russia, Prussia and the whole of reactionary Europe fought for the downfall of Napoleon so as to destroy the French revolution. However, such was the fear of the French people that, though the Bourbon dynasts were reimposed upon them and maintained by an army of 150,000 foreign muskets, they got a tolerably liberal constitution. Other countries saw the counterrevolution pressed home - the old despotisms were restored in Spain and Italy. The masses in Britain were put in their place by dragoons and sabres at Peterloo. In Germany too things took a similar course. At the 1815 Congress of Vienna the nations of Europe were bought and sold, divided and augmented. However, only three powers knew what they were about. All the rest was sentimentalism and egoism. Britain wanted to keep its colonial plunder and extend its commercial supremacy. France sought not to suffer too much. Russia - the most reactionary state in the European system - determined to add yet more territory to its vast empire. And each was out to weaken the other European powers. The result was a counterrevolutionary new world order. France managed to spoil the plans of the bigger German states, not least Prussia. Britain extended its maritime power and domination of continental markets. As for Russia, it became master of eastern and central Europe. The tsar humiliated Prussia, crushed Hungary, divided Poland, appointed his creature king of Denmark, etc. Germany was once again 'Balkanised'. To ensure it could never stand up to Russian might 36 states were carefully crafted and, to make matters far worse, they were disorganised into over 200 separate, smaller or larger patches of land. Not surprisingly most of these states were obsessed with their own legitimacy. What Germany won in the war against Napoleon it lost in the peace. The German despots purged French liberties and reintroduced old ways. Yet a return to pre-1789 conditions was impossible. The middle classes were neither willing to govern nor strong enough. But they were strong enough to force some concessions. Hence the reaction was somewhat timid and listless. Constitutional guarantees were given to the middle classes in some places: Bavaria, Wuttemberg, Baden, Hanover. Everywhere else bureaucratic governments - directed by aristocrats - pretended to take care of the interests of the middle classes through good governance. Ironically William III's Prussia was another factor holding back the counterrevolution. But he did so for his own counterrevolutionary reasons. Prussia now vied with Austria for domination over Germany - and in order to weaken the other German states he encouraged them to enact "mongrel constitutions" and provide for vaguely representative assemblies. Yet, while the micro-autocracies were weakened, no power was given to the people, not even the middle classes. Such an arrangement could satisfy no-one. Neither the christian Germanists, romantics, reactionaries nor liberals. From these two sects - they were not parties - arose the "mongrel liberals" who between 1815 and 1830 formed the dominant opposition current. Yet, trapped in the numerous petty states, the liberal-reactionary middle classes proved utterly impotent. In their secret societies they dreamt of a German emperor wearing crown, purple, sceptre and all the gaudy imperial rubbish - not forgetting an assembly of estates in which clergy, nobility, bourgeoisie and peasants would be properly separated. They shunned the 1789 revolution. Their model was medieval, their intentions servile. Germany was made a confederacy of states. But there was no risk that the people might impose their will. There was no genuinely representative national assembly. The delegates who formed the confederal diet were sent by the governments alone. Every state was bound by resolutions of the diet. But between them Prussia and Austria ruled absolutely. All they needed to do was to threaten to abandon the micro-autocracies in their struggle with their assemblies and the lesser princes would fall into line and utter obedience. Nothing could be done in the petty states. Prussia and Austria were crucial. Engels contemptuously dismissed the Prussian king, William III, as one of "greatest blockheads that ever graced a throne" (F Engels CW Vol 6, New York 1976, p23). The man knew only two feelings - fear and imperiousness. The king of Prussia had been cheated by Britain, cheated by France, cheated by the emperors of Russia and Austria. Nevertheless he was happy. Napoleon had been overthrown. There was no fear. Having had half his kingdom confiscated by Napoleon, he surrounded himself with a party of half-and-half reformers. They abolished servitude, feudal services and reorganised the municipalities. A constitution was drafted but never appeared in law. However, fear returned. Fifteen years after the Congress of Vienna the masses of Paris once more rose up. Fear of revolution replaced fear of Napoleon. Unity from above The 1830 revolution signalled the general outbreak of middle class, aristocratic and popular discontent throughout Europe. The results were mixed. The aristocratic Polish revolution was put down. The bourgeoisie in France and Belgium succeeded. The English middle classes got the reform bill which gave them the vote. In Italy the popular party insurrection - partly middle class, partly national - was suppressed. In Germany too there were numerous movements and several dozen insurrections between 1830 and 1834. They were hampered by national disunity. They was no community of interest and no focal point. However, two or three of the middle class revolutions managed to succeed. Germany began to move. Headed by Prussia, 17 of the states came together to form a customs union - the Zollverein - in 1834. Austria was kept out and wrapped itself up in its own separate tariff system. Zollverein oversaw the general introduction of steam power and the growth of an internal market. This brought the states and provinces closer together. The Zollverein customs union paved the way for Prussian hegemony. Something welcomed by many middle class provincial patriots, who believed that the Prussian bureaucratic straitjacket was the only means whereby Germany could obtain some kind of cohesion. Despite the miserable record of the middle classes Marx and Engels were in 1847 still looking for a re-run of the 1789 French revolution. "The party of the bourgeoisie is," said Engels, "the only one that at present has a chance of success" (F Engels CW Vol 6, New York 1976, p86). Both men expected the bourgeoisie to do their historic duty and take the lead. Their party, the communists, would try to win the tiny but growing working class to fight alongside them. But once the bourgeoisie got themselves into power the workers would constitute themselves as the party of extreme opposition. From here the proletariat would gather its strength before squaring up for the next, final, battle which would be with the bourgeoisie. Marx and Engels had definite immediate aims vis-à -vis the constitutional question in Germany. The first demand of the Communist Party in Germany was that the whole country "shall be declared a single and indivisible republic" (K Marx and F Engels CW Vol 7, Moscow 1977, p3). To ensure a democratic and lasting unification the 'giants' of Germany, Austria and Prussia had to be broken up into autonomous provinces. The interests of the proletariat forbade either the Prussianisation or Austrianisation of Germany just as much as the perpetuation of its division into petty states. The working class required the unification of Germany at long last into a nation. Interestingly for our purposes Engels mused about the possibility of a "European federation". However, for him, a it had to be based on the unity of all the main nations of Europe - defined by common language and fellow-feeling - in their own broadly homogenous nation-states. In other words a centralised German republic was a precondition for the voluntary coming together of Europe (F Engels CW Vo 7, Moscow 1977, p51). In 1848 a powerful revolutionary wave swept Europe. Paris took the lead. Italy and Hungary followed. The Chartists in Britain made plans for a nationwide physical-force uprising. Germany was no exception. Munich, Cologne, Berlin, Vienna, Dresden, Frankfurt. Crowns wobbled, street barricades were built, constitutions rewritten. Marx and Engels hastily packed their bags and returned to Germany, along with some 400 fellow Communist Party members. Under their leadership the working class appeared before history in their own right and with their own mission. And yet - though the communists pushed, kicked and pulled - the bourgeoisie refused to act in any decisive fashion. A cowardly bunch. No Cromwell, no Ireton, no Marat, no Robespierre. The Frankfurt national assembly generated plenty of hot air and countless proclamation. Huff and bluster. It was the parliament of an imaginary country. Resolutions were imaginary. Not one prince was overthrown. No army recruited. The official left of the Frankfurt assembly was no better. Marx and Engels ridiculed the radical democrats for their timid plan for a federal monarchical Germany. The petty princes would remain as constitutional monarchies, but the central government was to be republican! The 'model' of these radicals was the USA. But, of course, they shied away from the methods of 1776. It was under these circumstances that Marx and Engels developed their programme of permanent revolution - the working class would have to take the lead in the anti-autocratic national revolution, and, having done so, would not hand power to the bourgeoisie, but would take things as far as objective circumstances allowed. Because of its autocracy, relatively large size and long militaristic tradition Prussia was viewed as the main obstacle to revolution in Germany. Prussia might move to unite Germany as an act of counterrevolution. But, even then, it could only unite Germany by tearing Germany apart. Prussia would have to exclude German Austria. The same applied to Austria - the most reactionary German state. An Austrian Germany would have to exclude Prussia. Under either Prussia or Austria there could only be a 'smaller Germany'. That is why, in the name of "real unification", Marx and Engels wanted to see the "dissolution" of Prussia and "disintegration" of the Austrian state (F Engels CW Vol 26, London 1990, p124). If Germany were ever to achieve anything worthwhile there could be neither an Austria nor a Prussia. It should be stressed that Marx and Engels sough the "dissolution" of Prussia and the "disintegration" of Austria in the context of bringing about a centralised revolutionary and social republic. A country like Germany, which had suffered from extreme fragmentation, if it was to survive, needed the most "stringent revolutionary centralisation". This was especially so because the Germany of 1848 contained "20 Vendées" - an allusion to the peasant counterrevolution in France - and found itself sandwiched between the two most powerful and most centralised European states: ie, Russian and France. Such a country cannot, in the present period of universal revolution, avoid "either civil war or war with other countries", proclaimed Engels (F Engels CW Vol 7, Moscow 1977, p237-38). Specifically Marx and Engels advocated a revolutionary liberation war against Russia that would unite Germany on the basis of democracy and hold out the promise of Polish independence and reunification. But, though Germany had made "several dozen small and big revolutions", the revolution narrowed the mental horizons of the middle classes instead of broadening them. To ingratiate itself with the partitioning powers - Russia, Prussia and Austria - the Frankfurt national assembly endorsed the partition of Poland! With such a cowering, directionless and powerless high command the writing was on the wall. By 1850 the situation had been stabilised in favour of reaction - especially the 'big' German powers, Prussia and Austria. Concessions were rolled back. However, Engels explained the defeat of the revolution not in the betrayal of this or that leader. Rather he looked to the fragmentation of Germany itself. The incoherence, myopia, and irresolution which prevailed at every turn derived from interests so varied, so conflicting, so strangely cancelling each other out that decisive action was impossible. After the failure of 1848 some disillusioned liberals yearned for unity under Prussia. But, as explained above, that meant excluding Austria. Fanatical nationalists, on the other hand, hoped for the restoration of the feudal empire. This dream would, if it ever came to realisation, be a Greater Austria. Austria, Prussia and the rest of Germany unite into a federal state and proceed to Germanise Austria's Hungarian and Danube empire by means of schools, colonies and gentle violence. The formerly Austrian Netherlands would also be incorporated as a vassal state. Engels damned these "patriotic fanatics" (F Engels CW Vol 16, London 1980, p217). Meanwhile ignorant radicals sank into admiration of the Swiss constitution. Only the communists remained committed to a German republic "one and indivisible". As the reader well knows, in 1866 the armies of Prussia defeated those of Austria in an eight-day war. From this moment onwards Prussia stopped viewing the rest of Germany as prey. Prussia became nationalised; Germany was its protectorate - even if that meant the exclusion of a large part of Germany: ie, Austria. War with France followed. Again Prussian forces scored a swift and total victory. France surrendered. Napoleon III was replaced by a republic. Prussia could now impose its terms of the rest of Germany and in 1871 the king of Prussia became the German emperor. As an aside let us note that both Marx and Engels predicted new war - between Russia (aligned with France) and Germany. This was something they feared. The transition to socialism would be put-off by such a war for a long time. Engels specifically said that such a "conflict will be the downfall of the Prussian state and the Prussian army - probably in a war with Russia, which might last four years and would yield nothing but disease and shattered bones" (F Engels CW Vol 23, London 1988, p604). He also talked of 20 million deaths. How did Engels assess this Prussian version of German unity? Bismarck - Prussia's uncrowned Bonaparte - had, he said, carried out a "revolution" and a "revolution with revolutionary methods. Only because it was carried out from above it was "not revolutionary enough"; this half-unification of Germany was only a "half-revolution" (F Engels CW Vol 26, London 1990, p481). Real measures which unified the country were welcomed as a step forward: eg, the common legal code and Bismarck's legislation creating common banking laws and a common currency over 1873-75. Engels expressed the opinion that it would have been better if the mark could have been pegged to one of the big three - dollar, pound or franc. Yet Prussia had not dissolved into Germany. Instead Bismarck introduced the Prussian system throughout most of Germany. Bavaria and the southern states retained a degree of autonomy. In certain ways it was as if semi-feudal northern Scotland had managed to conquer England in 1645. Political power resided with the emperor, a caste of aristocratic bureaucrats and the military top brass. Universal male suffrage was granted, but the emperor appointed the chancellor and the relatively feeble Reichstag could not turn down tax demands. A copy of the 1850 Prussian constitution. Put another way, there existed a pseudo-constitutionalism. The Reichstag served as a fig leaf for absolutism. Germany was in fact a police-guarded military despotism with parliamentary embellishments. But this was no return to the past. Germany set itself on a course of rapid industrialisation and with that the bourgeoisie came to exercise a decisive influence. There also came into existence a powerful, well organised and highly educated proletariat. It was in these promising circumstances that Marx - writing in 1875, in what became known as the Critique of the Gotha programme - took issue with his comrades in the fast growing Social Democratic Party. They were reluctant to highlight the demand for the abolition of the monarchy. By contrast Marx renewed his call for a "democratic republic" against the Prusso-German monarchy (K Marx CW Vol 24, London 1989, p95). A theme Engels elaborated upon some 15 later in his Critique of the draft programme in 1891 - unlike our Socialist Workers Party allies, parties associated with Marx and Engels regarded programmes as vital and took great pains in writing and perfecting them. Engels attacked Prussianism and the peaceful illusions being entrained by some party leaders in Germany. There could conceivably be a peaceful transition to socialism in countries where the "representatives of the people concentrate all power in their hands, where, if one has the support of the majority of the people, one can do as one sees fit in a constitutional way; in democratic republics such as France and the USA, in monarchies such as Britain ... where this dynasty is powerless against the people" (F Engels CW Vol 27, London 1990, p226). But not autocratic Germany. Engels admits that due to police censorship and legal restrictions it may not be possible for the SDP to feature the abolition of the monarchy in its programme. Some devious formulation ought therefore to be concocted. Either way, Engels is insistent that the working class "can only come to power under the form of a democratic republic". He call this the "specific form for the dictatorship of the proletariat": that is, the rule of the working class (ibid p227). So as to open up the road to power Engels argues for the "reconstruction of Germany". The system of small states within Prusso-Germany "must be abolished". How, he asks, can you revolutionise society while there are special rights for Bavaria-Wuttemburg and even the small state of Thuringia consists of statelets? Again he balances off the abolition of the small states with the call to abolish Prussia and break it up into "self-governing provinces". For Engels the system of small states and Prussianism are the "two sides of the antithesis now gripping Germany in a vice", in which one side "must also serve as an excuse and justification for the existence of the other" (ibid p228). What should take the place of Prusso-Germany? Engels opposes federalism and repeats the demand for the "one and indivisible republic". He is no dogmatist. Remember there is no principle involved. The goal is to achieve the maximum voluntary union between peoples, most importantly the working class. In his reckoning, federalism is on the whole necessary in the "gigantic" USA, although in the eastern states it was already "becoming a hindrance". "It would be a step forward" in the British Isles, where the two islands contain four peoples - English, Scots, Irish, Welsh - and at the time three different systems of legislation and a single parliament. In "little" Switzerland federalism "has long been a hindrance, tolerable only because Switzerland is content to be a purely passive member of the European state system". For Germany, federalism on the Swiss model would be an "enormous step backwards". Germany already had a second, federal, chamber - the Bundesrat - that, like the House of Lords in Britain, served reaction. Germany certainly did not need separate legislation enacted in each state or canton. No, the best conditions for progress and preparing the working class for the revolutionary transition is the centralised, democratic republic: ie, elections at every level, self-administration and absence of bureaucracy, a militia system and the abolition of the standing army.