1885-03-13 - Otto Von Bismarck

The previous speaker directed the bulk of his remarks not against our bill to sbusidize steamships but against our colonial policy in general. He forces me therefore to digress from this bill more than I intended and to discuss the colonial question, which he has placed in the foreground....

The previous speaker made his wish to discourage us very clear. He does not even have to vote against the bill; his speech made it plain that he does not agree with the colonial policy of the German Empire. He began, to be sure, by saying that he and his political friends support a colonial policy in general, perhaps because of the lively interest in such a policy expressed in public opinion and among the voters. But he then resorted to the usual tactic of citing practical difficulties to reject specific proposals which he supposedly supports in principle. He says: Yes, of course we want colonies, but not these....

The previous speaker seemed to desire colonies in those countries to which Germans of all classes might emigrate—he considered in particular those Germans destined for this fate who could not get by in the Fatherland, he suggested that perhaps the nation’s refuse would go there—countries where they could establish themselves en masse and find a more fortunate destiny and mor sympathetic neighbors than they would find at home. This image does not fit any of the present colonies. The most important and most promising of them lie under the equator or almost on it; even Angra Pequeña lies in a very hot climate and is a colony that can only become valuable if the hope based on the judgment of experts is fulfilled that a mining industry can be developed there. These hopes are directed primarily toward copper.... The population of thesse colonies themselves will not be customers who consume very much in the way of German products, but the business offices established there... will serve to arrange for substantial exportation of goods to the interior of Africa. That this trade will be confined to brandy, as claimed by the previous speaker, is news to me. If the English place such great value on their colonies there, if they—not the government but many of its subjects—create such great difficulties for us and seek tenaciously to expand every foothold to the greatest extent possible—is that supposed to mean that they are pursuing castles in the air, is that supposed to be based on some mad whim? Is it not more likely that solid English interests explain this, the hope of utilizing coastal stations to export great quantities of English manufactures to the hundreds of millions who inhabit the interior of Africa and are gradually becoming accustomed to consume European wares? You ridicule the ribbons that have been mentioned here [as goods sold to Africans], but a large number of decent workers live from the manufacture of these ribbons in our mountain villages, and at election time you will not be disposed to laugh about their needs.

(Very true! from the right.)

I would urge the gentlemen who make fun of the matter today to go to those villages in Thuringia and elsewhere where these ribbons and glass beads are made and to repeat the derisive comments they make here, then they will hear the proper answer.

(Quite right! from the right.)

But it is not merely a matter of these little bows and decorations. Representative Woermann has provided us orally and in writing with lists of hundreds of articles supplied by German industry to this region. If everyone here did not consider himself a representative just of his party and electoral district, this very informative explanation by Representative Woermann would have prevented the gentlemen from ridiculing the insignificance of the exports. Even the Portuguese—why do they cling so tightly to their colonies and jealously defend every little piece thereof? You can accuse the English of whatever you want, but they are not dumb in matters of commerce;


you will expose yourselves to this charge if you raise it against the English....

Now the previous speaker says that this will only benefit a few rich business houses that are already rich enough. Well, gentlemen, these rich merchants are nonetheless human beings too, Germans even,


who have the same right to expect protection for their wealth and their business enterprises as that claimed by the rich Englishman from his government. If England did not have a much larger number of millionaires than we do, it would not also have a significantly richer middle class. The two are closely connected. You should create many [millionaires]! We now have few wealthy houses, that is true; but I hope and desire and strive in every way to guarantee that we will get more such wealthy houses in our country....

I must deny that the government is moved by such petty considerations as the previous speaker attributes to us. We work and strive to raise the economic niveau of the entire German nation, to which the rich belong as well as the poor, and if we thereby achieve an improvement in the tax revenue of the German Empire, you should rejoice with us because that means you will have much less trouble with the uncomfortable task of approving expenditures.

(Bravo! from the right.)

Colonies like Cuba, Puerto Rico, the West Indies and all the equatorial colonies have always been considered by the mother country to have a very high monetary value. Nonetheless there has never been any great emigration to them; nobody has ever tried to produce wheat or wool there, which might justify the previous speaker’s fears about duty-free imports, but rather they have produced tropical products that do not grow here. That is the main point, to establish plantations there where Germans of the educated or semi-educated class can be employed....

He [the previous speaker] referred to the difficulties experienced by the French in Indochina [which had lost several thousand troops in fighting there since 1880]. Well, that just provides me with evidence that a wise nation like the French that calculates carefully places an extraordinarily high value on possessing such colonies and is willing to make sacrifices that we do not ask of anyone in order to gain them. I have no intention of following French policy in this regard. We do not imitate foreign examples; we just follow our merchants with our protection. That is the principle that we have always observed, but you will force us to betray it if you do not grant us the necessary funds. If that happens, gentlemen, I repeat, I must demand that you clearly reveal to the people that it is not the government that has refused to grant the means for this protection, but rather the representative of the people who have denied those means. I demand this clarity.

(Quite right! from the right.)

You must not conceal the fact that you deny us the means by advancing all sorts of pretexts.... We will employ every method to force you to play with open cards, to declare clearly before the voters and the public whether you want a colonial policy or not,

(Bravo! from the right.)

whether you want colonies or not....

I recently allowed myself to employ an analogy with the concept of a “people’s dawn” [Völkerfrühling] that can be found in Teutonic mythology.... I fear that I did not make my meaning clear.... Throughout the last twenty years I have constantly been upset and even tormented by the analogy between recent German history and our ancient German mythology. I meant the concept of a “people’s dawn” to apply to more than colonial policy.... I meant by this the dawn that has recently blossomed for us Germans, the whole period in which—I think I can rightly say—God has blessed German politics since 1866, a period in which we survived an unfortunate war between brothers that was unavoidable in order to cut a gordian knot, survived with much less damage than one might expect. The enthusiasm for the national idea was so great in the South as well as the North that the conviction spread that this surgical operation was necessary to heal the old German sickness; soon old rivalries were forgotten, and we convinced ourselves already in 1870 that the feeling of national unity was not destroyed by this war between brothers and that we all resisted the attacks from abroad as “a single nation of brothers.”

(A forceful Bravo!)

That struck me as a people’s dawn, that we won back the old German border lands, established the national unity of the Reich, assembled a German Reichstag, saw a German emperor again, that all struck me as a people’s dawn, not today’s colonial policy, which is simply an episode in the series of setbacks that we have since suffered. This people’s dawn lasted only a few years after the great victory. I don’t know if the billions in booty [i.e., the French war indemnity of 1871] already smothered it. But then came what I described with the concept of “Loki,” the old German nemesis of party strife nourished by the distinctions between dynasties, religious confessions, and ethnic differences, nourished by the struggles between the parliamentary parties. This spirit of strife took over our public life and parliaments, and we have reached a state in public life where the governments stand together, but where the German Reichstag does not function as the guarantee of unity which I sought and hoped for, but rather succumbs to the partisan spirit. This partisan spirit is what I will denounce before God and history if the pen contrives to ruin what the sword created, if it succeeds with Loki’s voice in seducing the original voter Hödur, who cannot always judge the consequences of his actions, into smashing his own fatherland, into wrecking the magnificent work of our nation in 1866 and 1870.

(Lively Bravo! from the right. Whistles from the left.

Renewed applause from the right and from the tribune.)