File No. 763.72/9066
The Chargé in Denmark ( Grant-Smith) to the Secretary of State
[Received March 3, 2.10 a.m.]
2006. The aim of Hertling’s speech as stated by Germania was twofold: the discussion of peace with Wilson and explanation of Germany’s plans in the east. Judging from the effect produced both in the press and in the Reichstag, the real aim of the speech was evidently to give hope to the forces of moderation in the Entente countries and particularly in America, and simultaneously to re-emphasize the “defensive war” fiction in order to keep the German inner front intact upon the eve of spring hostilities in the west, and to justify the war’s continuance as necessary to maintain Germany’s political and territorial integrity, thus casting on the enemy the odium for further bloodshed.
While the Chancellor was successful in impressing on all but the most Radical sections of opinion his views concerning the divergence between the President’s last message and war aims of the Entente, Scheidemann, Vorwärts and the Tageblatt were all quick to point out the divergence between the Chancellor’s own words and the trend of events in the [east]. The speakers and press of the other less Radical sections of the Majority bloc, being superficially satisfied [Page 145]with the pleasing general tone of the speech and in part probably secretly gratified that the Chancellor has again left open the possibility of an annexationist interpretation of the Government’s protestations of its will to peace, do not draw the logical conclusions from this divergence; there is further complete unanimity within this division of opinion, that the German advance is a measure necessary for securing order in the eastern border territories and as a protection against Bolshevik propaganda. The Socialists do not regard the statement of the German intentions concerning Belgium as definite enough, while Trimborn the Centrist leader interpreted it as a declaration of absolute readiness to reestablish completely Belgium. The Pan-Germans, while evidently displeased by the tone and contents of the speech, are eagerly concentrating their attention on the favorable possibilities for an immediate consummation of their plans in the east, which the Government’s policy wittingly or unwittingly opens to them; they accordingly refrain from openly hostile criticism of the Chancellor’s answer to the President and his statements regarding Belgium, which they merely attempt to minimize and interpret as favorably as possible to themselves in the belief that when their plans in the east have been realized they can succeed in forcing a similar settlement in the west.
Payer’s speech received quite as much press comment as the Chancellor’s as being of the greatest inner political significance. The fact that he spoke not from the Government bench but from the speaker’s rostrum, that he advocated a program of internal reform, originating not with the Government but with a majority of the popular representatives, that he based himself squarely on the support of this majority attacking the opponents of the program both to right and left, and making no attempt to straddle or to throw off sops to the reactionaries, led the Majority parties as well as the Conservatives to proclaim it, the former joyfully, the latter wrathfully, as a further and convincing proof that parliamentary Government in Germany has become to a measurable extent a reality. The anger of the Conservatives was particularly aroused by Payer’s assertion of the doctrine that since Prussia exerts such extensive influence in imperial matters, Prussian questions (in this case franchise reform) must of necessity be a matter of vital interest to the Reichstag; for they see in the recognition of this doctrine the destruction of one of the principal traditions upon which Junker control of Prussia and hence of the Empire is based. From the lips of a non-Prussian it was particularly distasteful and took on added significance.
Scheidemann’s speech appears of most interest in the debate which followed the utterances of the Chancellor and Payer. It was printed in full in the Vorwärts, but completely emasculated in the summaries [Page 146]given in the Norddeutsche and other papers. It verified the Vorwärts assertion that the Social Democracy would appear in the Reichstag not as the accused but as the accuser in regard to the strikes, of which Scheidemann draws detailed account with special reference to the attitude of the Majority Socialists. On this point he took issue with Payer’s exposition of the Government’s standpoint, marking the only important exception of the otherwise unqualified support which the Vice-Chancellor received from the Majority parties. Scheidemann particularly reasserted the independence of his party, where its aims diverged from those of the other parties or of the Government. Trimborn, the Centrist leader, also affirmed the independence of the various parties of the Majority group aside from the program agreed upon. Thus it appears that the Majority now stands completely in agreement as regards the internal Government program, less completely as concerns peace and foreign policy, and only potentially in regard to other questions. The attitude of the National Liberals is still uncertain. Hamburger Fremdenblatt is authority for stating that they intended to make their relations to the Majority bloc dependent on the Socialist attitude in the Reichstag in settlement of strikes but the same paper points out that after Payer’s speech it will be impossible for them to join the “more than ever isolated Conservatives”.
The debates on the Prussian franchise reform have been interrupted. The possibility of passing the Government measure is mentioned with slightly increased optimism by the Radical press. Public opinion and perhaps pressure from official quarters upon it have had their effect and most of the National Liberal papers as well as the Reichstag faction are favoring with increased emphasis support of the Government bill and openly condemning the action of the four members of the party who voted for the Conservatives’ amendment in committee; this may effect a change of the attitude to the recalcitrant portion of the Landtag faction. Payer’s comments on the franchise reform show typically the determined belief in Radical circles that public opinion will inevitably insist on the reform in the near future.
The publication by the official Austrian Telegraph Bureau of the protest of the Polish club in the Cholm question containing attacks on the German military authorities (the publication of which was forbidden in Germany) has received some attention in the press and the Kölnische indicates plainly that it gave rise to diplomatic protest by the German Ambassador in Vienna. In this connection Scheidemann’s assertion in the Reichstag that “in Austria the people feel entirely hostile to us” is interesting.