The Ambassador in Great Britain ( Davis ) to the Acting Secretary of State

No. 76

Sir: I have the honor to transmit, herewith enclosed, for the information of the Department, three (3) copies of a confidential Memorandum on the Prospects of Order and Ordered Government in Berlin, which I have just received from the Political Intelligence Department of the Foreign Office.

It is pointed out clearly in this Report that the political situation hinges upon the economic; and that the latter is at the present very menacing. “There seems to be no prospect of improvement until a stable Government supported by the great majority of the people is formed and until the raw materials of industry are available in adequate quantities.” This statement sums up best present conditions in Berlin and in Germany generally—the keys to the situation are the convocation of the Constituent Assembly and the resumption of industry. Consequently, every effort is being made by the de facto Government to hasten these events. It is to be noted that, while at present the final decision apparently rests with the Councils of Workmen and Soldiers, the majorities in these bodies, under the influence mainly of soldiers are strongly in favor of orderly, constructive, republican constitutionalism and federalism.

Attention is drawn to the caution with which exaggerated reports of Bolshevism in the German cities should be received. In a measure, the tendentious descriptions of the prevailing anarchy, supposed to exist, which have appeared in French journals may be ascribed to the preferences of two sections of French opinion. The first of these is Chauvinist, imperialist and annexationist, without even worldly wisdom. But the other is afraid of a successful, progressive and really democratic German Republic. These circumstances must therefore be taken into account in surveying the reports which emanate from neutral countries, regarding the internal conditions in Germany.

The Spartacus group led by Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg is not of itself formidable. It is rather as a permanent point of crystallization for all discontented and disorderly elements that the group may become dangerous; and its peril will exist during the transition period between war and peace. Much depends upon the willingness with which the C. W. S. D.’s18 will yield their power to [Page 126] the Constituent Assembly, and the prospects in this regard seem favorable at present. In the final analysis, however, the preservation of order in Berlin will be brought about only if the Government uses a firm hand in dealing with anarchical tendencies. If the Ebert Cabinet is willing to exercise its authority in an impartial manner, the development of republican Germany can occur in a healthy and orderly manner.

I have [etc.]

John W. Davis

Memorandum on the Prospects of Order and Ordered Government in Berlin

It is difficult to gather a complete or clear idea of the political situation in Germany in so far as it can be distinguished from the economic. That the economic situation is very menacing admits of no doubt; and there seems to be no prospect of improvement until a stable Government supported by the great majority of the people is formed, and until the raw materials of industry are available in adequate quantities. The way to a stable Government for the whole of Germany—a Federal Government of the United States of Germany—lies through the Constituent Assembly. The meeting of the Congress of Delegates of Workmen’s and Soldiers’ Councils from all Germany which opened in the Prussian Chamber on Monday, December 16, resulted in an overwhelming majority for the Constituent and in the expression of an eager desire that it should be elected and should assemble sooner than the previously contemplated date, February 16. It appears that the Ebert-Haase Government will try to expedite the elections.
The elections for the Constituent Assemblies of the separate States are beginning. In Mecklenberg, hitherto the most reactionary of all the States and without any popular representation, a large Radical (i. e. Non socialist) majority has been returned. In Anhalt-Dessau, a partly industrial State, the majority is moderate Socialist (Ebert and Scheidemann’s party).
Still leaving the economic situation out of account, there seems to be clear evidence that the great majorities in the Workmen’s and Soldiers’ Councils, under the influence mainly of the soldiers, are strongly in favour of orderly, constructive, republican constitutionalism and federalism. The idea of a ‘unitarian’ republic with its seat at Berlin has hitherto found support only in Saxony, and even there it would appear to be yielding to the general federalist tendency.
Great caution ought to be exercised in the repetition of reports from neutral countries regarding the strength of the disintegrating, [Page 127] or Bolshevist, elements, in the situation. It is noticeable in particular that the Zürich telegrams to Le Journal (of Paris) wear a ‘tendentious’ aspect. Those who supply these telegrams must conceive it to be in the interest of France that Germany should lapse into a state of anarchy—for a time at any rate. There are two sections of opinion in France which incline to this desire. The first is Chauvinist, imperialist and annexationist, without even worldly wisdom. It wants as much of Germany on the left bank of the Rhine as it can get, and does not want Germany ever again to be come a great European Power. The other section is afraid of a successful, progressive and really democratic German Republic. If the Germans succeeded in organizing a Federal Republic on a really popular basis, and put into the organization of their democracy all the ability (some would add all the honesty) which used to characterize their semi-autocratic and wholly bureaucratic Empire before the war; if they achieved as great success in organizing Labour in the interest of the masses and of renewed industrial prosperity, as they achieved in the commercial and military spheres before the war, the new German Republic would soon contrast very favourably with France, and, after due expiation, might regain the good opinion of the world. For it is too often forgotten that in the ’eighties and early ’nineties, there was almost everywhere a chorus of admiration for modern Germany, and that not least in England and America.
Disintegrating and destructive elements undoubtedly exist. The Spartacus group led by Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg would not of itself be formidable. A man who celebrates the Revolution by establishing himself in the Berlin Royal Castle and sleeping in the Kaiser’s bed, as Liebknecht is reported to have done on November 9, must be nearly as extravagant and theatrical in his methods as the Kaiser himself. That kind of conduct does not commend itself to the German working man, who is serious and argumentative, and is distrustful of extravagances and eccentricities. It is rather as a permanent point of crystallization for all discontented and disorderly elements that the Spartacus group may become dangerous. That is what happened on Friday, December 6, when a report got abroad (encouraged by the imprudent overtures of a demonstration of soldiers outside Ebert’s official residence) that Ebert contemplated allowing himself to be elevated forthwith to the Presidency of the Republic. All opinion which really counts at the moment—that is to say, the opinion which has behind it the votes of the majority and the arms of the soldiers—is in favour of two things (1) the General German Constituent Assembly, (2) the retention of the ultimate authority and the provisional representation of the nation by the collectivity of the Workmen’s and Soldiers’ Councils, [Page 128] until the Constituent is elected and a stable German Federal Government established on the basis of the Majority of the Constituents’ views.
When it is reported that the Workmen’s and Soldiers’ Councils will not be willing to surrender power and control after the Constituent has done its work and has superseded them by establishing a Government capable of governing, these statements are based on symptoms and inferences which are not, so far, convincing. It is quite true that certain elements in the Councils—a section of the workmen and the more extreme Socialist leaders like Richard Müller, who signs with Brutus Molkenbuhr for the Executive Committee of the Berlin Workmen’s and Soldiers’ Councils—cling to power. They know or fear that the majority of the Constituent will not be even Socialist in colour, and they would fain insist that, before the Constituent assembles and establishes the Federal Republic, the present holders of power should establish the Socialist state by a series of decrees in lieu of legislation. It is also true that a number of members of the Councils cling to their present positions and the emoluments which they have voted themselves. On the other hand, it must not be forgotten that, formally, at least—though there are still frequent irregularities—the Berlin Councils have divested themselves of executive power, which they at first claimed and which they were sometimes exercising in a grotesque enough fashion. Perhaps the Councils, or more or less irresponsible and arbitrary members of them, are still, here and there, interfering with the administration. It is reported that General Scheuch has resigned the portfolio of War because Socialist officers refused to obey orders, and because one of his direct subordinates was arrested and kept in prison in spite of the War Minister’s protests. A representative of the Potsdam Workmen’s and Soldiers’ Council had also objected to the War Office appointment of a Commandant for Potsdam, because he wanted the post himself.

Revolutions cannot be made with rose-water, and manifestations of this kind will continue unless, or until, the Constituent can establish a Constitutional Republic and a stable government. Ebert has declared his desire that the All-German Congress of Workmen’s and Soldiers’ Councils should “draw a broad line” against increasing attempts to cripple by means of brutal violence the State and Communal administrations. But the only remedy for “brutal violence” is the exercise of superior force. It does not appear that the Ebert-Haase Government is yet prepared to exercise the force which the vast majority of the troops now in and about Berlin is ready to place at their disposal. A successful provisional Government like the Haase-Ebert “People’s Commission” must be at once [Page 129] disinterested and firm. The Ebert-Haase combination is evidently unable to overcome its traditional party repugnance to methods of force, and fears the groundless charge, which the Spartacus Group bring against it, of wanting to establish a reactionary personal dictatorship. The force which suppressed with some bloodshed the Spartacus émeute of Friday, December 6, was not put in action by the Government. It consisted of troops just home from the front, and now quartered in the neighbourhood of Berlin. The question whether the preservation of order, until order is firmly re-established on a constitutional basis, can be left with any confidence to the orderly portion of the troops, undirected by the Provisional Government, can only be decided by the event. The next month or six weeks will decide the issue between order and anarchy. Much will depend upon the economic situation, regarding which and its dangers another report has been presented.

  1. i. e., Councils of Workmen’s and Soldiers’ Deputies.