“We must pursue an active foreign policy, in a word, an aggressive one”
-Heinrich Claß, If I were Kaiser,1912.
In 1916, as the German Army made significant headway across the Eastern Front, Western newspapers quoted the Alldeutscher Verband as calling the war one for the “struggle for existence”, this, of course, without any surprise as the Verband profusely advocated the idea that “men [were] divided into the weak and the strong”. These radical ideas which sprung out of broader contexts of a ‘Germanified Mitelleuropa’ or that of an united “Deutschtum”, were in no way new concepts among the nationalist members and ideologies of the Verband.Yet, in the years prior to the Great War they seemed to have become increasingly more radical under the guise and leadership of Heinrich Claß.
Heinrich Claß, President of the Pan-German League from 1908 until its destruction in 1939, had an integral role to play in the promotion of the ideology of Pan-Germanism in the pre-war years, specifically in German idealizations of expansion in Eastern Europe which was complemented quite profusely by the rise of intense antisemitism. This, in essence, had led to the dramatic alteration of the Verband as an conglomerate of loosely nationalist ideals into what became an ideological vanguard of the right-wing in Germany. Yet, it is important to understand that Heinrich Claß was not, in fact, the creator of these ideals but merely a very effective promoter, as they have existed within the framework of the Verband since the early precepts of its creation in 1891. Claß had a distinct role on highlighting these issues, and exaggerating their importance. Specifically, Claß’ rather bold publication, If I Were Kaiser, which had been argued to be, in essence, the new ‘manifesto’ of the Verband, in itself holds the amalgamation of all the ideals, concepts and beliefs of the organization, but is also evidence of the dramatic turn in its incessant dogma. Claß did not exhibit a tinge of originality in his Pan-German aspirations, as most of his arguments are only extensions of past ideologies. The idea of Pan-German expansion in the ‘Near-East’, and antisemitism were, thus, not his own fabrications, but rather the products of ideological strife that was born out of decades of debate. Claß assuredly acted as an opportunist and advocated for these ideals with much greater passion and zeal, which is perhaps why historians attribute him for his radicalism in the League. Yet, the reason his voice was heard, although he pushed for the same ideas, was because of the precarious times he lived in. Thus, the argument also raises the important question of the socio-political circumstances of Germany, in 1908, that had given Claß the ability to successfully promote his extremism.
Ultimately, the reason it is important to understand Heinrich’s role in the transformation of the League is because it plays conveniently within the broader context of German Imperial ambitions prior to the Great War. Did Claß and the Pan-German League have a role in shaping the German imperial mindset of expansions in the east? Or were these elements already well placed within the upper echelons of German society and military, and in fact Claß and the League were merely products of incessant nationalism?And, if this is the case, where were the real long-term origins of eastern expansion and antisemitism that had molded the Alldeutscher Verband?
The Alldeutscher Verband was born out of general German discontent from the ‘bad deal’ it had gotten from the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty, in which Germany was forced to handover Zanzibar to the British. The insurgency of intellectuals which fostered imperialist and colonial dogmas were outraged which led to the creation of the Verband the following year. Yet, this was only the spark of a long and due process. The origins of the League can be traced as far as 1886 when Karl Peters, in hopes of advocating his colonial ideals in Africa, formed the Deutsche Verband which was a rather loosely tied organization with no real vanguard or concrete ideology. Whatever the case may be, the important thing remains is that the Verband was born out of a nationalism that had long over-due proper expression within the confines of the Kaiserreich. Elley infers that since its birth the League only stood for the “primacy of the national” and in fact saw itself as the purest symbol of nationalism in the German Reich. Thus, as early as the late 1880s, there was a rapid and broad blossoming of national ideas that were deeply rooted in the German ideal of expansionism. With this in mind, it is almost ironic that with the expulsion of Bismarck and his rather moderate and secured domestic and foreign policies in 1890, the Pan-German League also came into existence. Interestingly, it went against all the conservative policies of Prussian dominance, such as the long detested Kleinstein, and began to see Germany not just as a unified entity, but a polity able to assert its power on the European continent and in the colonial realm. For instance, Usher argues that the power of the Pan-German League did not lay only in the center but also in Austria and other parts of Europe which held German minorities.Even before the 1908 radical shift, the Pan-German movement had advocated in entirety most of the nationalist and colonial ideals from which Claß had produced the fundamentals of his argument.
The differences between Claß’ own ideals expressed in 1908, were not that much different from those of the former president of the Verband, Ernst Hasse. In essence, if one carefully reads Hasse’s Deutsche Politik in which he advocates the expansion of the German people into the east, it is easily comparable to the radical ideas of If I were Kaiser, published in 1912. Andler, a French historian, argues that Hasse truly advocated for the formation of a Germano-Magyar Empire that would create a colonial territory expanding as far as the ends of the Danube. Interestingly, the same ideal was preached by Claß, yet he advocated for the creation of a Reich that would stretch from Berlin to Baghdad, an increasingly more radical belief than Hasse himself. Andler argues Hasse’s radical ideologies in 1915 in the due course of the war, which means his argument is by itself was bound to be slightly more ‘pronounced’ in bias. In other words, Andler’s account characterizes Hasse far more radically his in beliefs, simply through the context in which he is placed. In essence, Claß took the same ideals perpetuated by Hasse, and many other predecessor nationalist and created an extremist platform of reiteration. For instance, Hasse argued that the Germanic people needed territory upon which they could expand their livelihoods, while Claß took this a step further and implied that it was the German’s people right to Eastern lands, as they were inhabited by the “inferior Slav races”. It is without a doubt that both were referring to Poland.
Heinrich Claß’ own promotion of a more stringent and aggressive position on The Polish Question was a more extremist take on Hasse’s ideals, and other Pan-German intellectuals. Although it is believed that Claß had taken the presidency in 1908, he had began to promote a hostile take on Poland, these ideas were no different from the early leaders of the Verband and even the state. Von Burlow had initiated the process of a plan by which more than 60.000 Poles would have been expatriated, and Germans would have taken their place. Hasse, of course, found this to be a minor course of action, and not at all in accordance with his plans of capacious expansion. Claß, on the other hand, not only repeated Hasse’s argument on the need to promote aggressiveness, but even suggested the creation of a Central Committee in Germany that would only deal with the Polish Question. Moreover, he implied that Germany should recall all Germans from the “far-flung corners” of the Empire only to fuel the course of real territorial expansion. It would not be bold to suggest that, in fact, much of Claß’ own ideas on Poland were also rooted from much of the work of The Society of The Eastern Marches, which diligently promoted the idea of German expansionism in the east, mainly by the subordination of Polish autonomy. However, Claß believed that fierce and quick militarism was the most effective way to quell any Polish resistance. Interestingly, before Claß had going the Verband in 1897, many of his acquaintances which had introduced him to fervent nationalism in 1894 were part of the society. Thus, it is quite apparent that Claß had taken the Polish Question from other the nationalist influences and had infused it deliberately within the the ideology of the Verband in a far more extremist nature. Yet, even these ideas of German militaristic aggression can be dated back to upsurge of German Colonialism in the 1880’s.
A great part Claß’ promotion of Germanic expansion, continent-ally and colonially, can be rooted from the early days of the Pan-German League, and even Karl Peter’s German League. Peters readily believed in the idea of the inferiority of the non-Germanic races, which was exposed by his membership in the Volkisch movement, and advocacy of scientific racism. These proponents were thus the elements which fueled his career as Reichkomissar in Afrika, where he exhibited his stark belief that the German people had an inherent right in occupying the natives of under-developed nations, under the guise of Social-Darwinism Interestingly, Peters had initiated the German League in 1886 which would be the basis of the Pan-German League in 1891. The importance of this is that Claß distinctly placed many of his own conceptions of race and colonialism on the same line with Peter’s. Yet, Claß was a realist, and had stated that much of Germany’s oversea colonies had been lost, which is why he proposed eastern expansion. However, Claß still held true to the idea of German colonialism as shown by his feverish support of the Agadir incident in 1911. Winkler, for instance, infers that Claß and the League were very pleased to help the German cause through the production of propaganda, such as leaflets. Much the same way Peters had promoted the Pan-German league and its Deutschtum ideals after the Zanzibar ordeal in 1891, so did Carl push for the German colonial cause in Agadir. Moreover, it is apparent that both men had laid their beliefs of colonialism on top of a far more sinister appreciation of scientific racism, and Antisemitism which stemmed out of the former.
Too many historians have attributed the rise of Antisemitism in the Pan-German League and other nationalist contingencies solely to Claß. Although, he had promoted it quite profusely in much of his work and even daily life, it would be more accurate to say that he was not the source of its infusion but rather the element which had brought it to light. In essence, to put it boldly, Claß had taken the thoughts and ideas of his contemporaries and had summarized them in the dogma the League. The reason for this is simply because anti-Semitism was a process and continuation of an ideal that had existed for centuries within the German polities. Eley argues that it became a “dominant motif in the rhetoric” of extremism Therefore, it would be more correct to suggest that Claß was the product of this racist process and merely its propagator. In fact, Claß was the pupil of the famous anti-Semitic Treitschke, who had influenced hundreds of German university students, many of which would later gain prominent roles in society. Claß, was therefore in a society where many of his own contemporaries and associates were embroiled in fanatical antisemitism. He was, by no means, the sole propagator of anti-Semitic thought, but rather, he was part of a conglomerate that fiercely encouraged it. For example, Levy argues that Jews were allowed in the Pan-German league, but as of 1908 Claß had completely barred them from their admission. However, he also infers that although Jews were allowed, this was only theoretical, as a majority of the members of the Vernbad were staunchly against Jewish members. It is perhaps for this reason why Levy even refers to Claß’s If I Were Kaiser as the manifesto of the League, as it combined the total beliefs and conceptions of its members, and not just Claß himself.
It is, in fact, Claß’ antisemitism that is the best evidence for his skill of collecting the amalgamation of old and popular concepts and promoting them in a manner which had gained him the title of a fanatic. It is quite interesting to see that there is very little difference between Claß’ If I were Kaiser, and Wilhelm Marr’s The Way to Victory of “Germanic-ism” over Judaism, published in 1879. Both men advocated, quite ostentatiously, that the Jews and German people were stuck in a constant racial conflict, very much rooted in the ideology of social Darwinism. Moreover, both argue, in detail, that German Liberalism had a pernicious influence on letting Jewry’s expansion to take over the facets of German life and the nation. It is in fact, because of Claß’ solutions against German Jews, where he promotes the complete absolution of civil rights, and the doubling in taxation for Jews, where he deviates into a rather crude fanaticism. Yet, it would not be wrong to assume that much of his radical solutions were actually born out of the rampant Antisemitism of his national predecessors. In his The Victory of Judaism over Germanism, written decades earlier, Marr suggests that one of the reasons Jews supposedly defeated the German people is because they were allowed equal rights as citizens in the first place. It is without a doubt that Claß was influenced by the intellectual output of individuals such as Marr, and exhibited his own racist doctrines in his writings, the same manner in which Peters exhibited his through colonial pursuits. Overall, Claß’ hatred of Jews was also accompanied by an intense hatred German Socialists and Liberals, again, also a popular element among nationalist and propagators of nationalism in Germany.
The hatred of German Socialism, and the SPD, should not be solely attributed to Claß for its strength in the Vernbad, as it was a very popular element of that period among nationalists and conservatives. One such conservative, Keim, whose efforts in the Navy League had gained him fame among the nationalist clique of post-1908, advocated that the Socialists robbed Germany of its “national strength”. It would not be too bold to suggest, that many of the nationalists in the League and other organizations felt the same. As Eley implies, that the main purpose of the league was the setting up of a strong “national opposition”. In this case, to the contrary beliefs of the Left. Claß, again, seems to have taken these broader principles and events, which were unfolding, and presented them in his own direct and bold view. In fact, he argued that the Socialists should have been barred from the use of the media in order to promote their propaganda. He even goes as far to suggest that he wished that Bismarck would have passed the Socialist Law in 1878, which would have suppressed the Socialist forces in Germany, perhaps before they would have gained such power by 1912. Similar to Claß’ antisemitism, his anti-socialism and his proposed solutions where the products of influence and dogma that existed quite intensely among the nationalist precepts of his time. These same influences were for the same reason, defended quite fiercely in hopes of maintaining their ‘purity’.
Claß perpetuated the old Pan-German tradition of maintaining ideological purity within the confines its membership and organization. It is primarily for this reason why he had published his If I were Kaiser, not only to promote, but in reality to explain what the Constitution of the Pan-Germanic League truly meant to its members and society. Of course, “the preservation of the German Volktum”, which is the first aim of the constitution also included the suppression of German Jewry, in Claß’ own view. In essence, although he had imposed this Radicalization, he still built upon old beliefs that remained pure since the institution of the Vernbad. Many of them were still being published prolifically through the Alldeutsche Blatter which was meant to keep the members of the League, and supporters informed on its progress. The League was thus very insistent on maintaining ideological cleanliness, as was Claß. In 1908, when Keim approached Claß and proposed that the Pan- German League form an umbrella organization from which all other leagues and organization would join as protectorates, he refused.There is no documentation on what grounds Claß had refused, however it is clear that if the Vernbad would have formed the co-operative organization it would have had its ideas and doctrines put at risk. Claß undoubtedly justified his refusal with that reasoning that the purity of doctrine was above that of organizational support. Yet, of course this was due to the fact that the Pan-German doctrine was by no means the most popular ideology, entirely due to its extremism, but it was still present among the highest quarters of the state.
The same manner that Claß advocated for the rise of Germany from its isolationist policies and into the ‘field of war’, so did Kaiser Wilhelm II believe that Germany had a ‘place in the sun’ by the same means. Wilhelm’s policy of Weltpolitik, which had a substantial affect on the way Germany conducted itself in foreign policy and the re-militarization of its navy, was in essence not that different from the aggressiveness of the Pan-German doctrine.Especially, as Wilhelm’s efforts eventually lead to the Great War of 1914. This is important because, out of all the Pan-German ideals pushed forward by the League, only the Great War of 1914 was the only materialization of its advocacy. However, to what extent the Pan-German League influenced the war deserves a paper on its own. The main point here is the fact that if Claß should be classified as a radical, it would be wrong to distinguish him from the radical and militaristic maneuvers imposed by the Kaisereich on Europe. It is apparent that much of Claß’ own ideology was, perhaps, drawn out of the greater German stage of nationalism, while he still remained an important propagator of such ideals. Thus, historians have taken Claß’ radicalism and have discounted the extremism, and more importantly the socio-political factors and changes that were taking place in Germany as a whole, in their analysis of his influence.
Therefore, Claß had a greater influence on the Vernbad, than his predecessors, such as Hasse, due to the extreme precariousness of Germany’s socio-political structures and foreign policies between 1908 and 1914. This was also one of the reasons why his and the League’s extremism came to light on the national stage. Chickering’s We Men Who Feel Most German, is a perfect altercation of the manner in which the Pan-German League had gained expediency on the national stage, primarily because of the national changes that were taking place both nationally and internationally.By 1908, the German nation had become a highly-industrialized state, with a highly growing middle class but with, still, a concrete preservation of the Junker classes. Conservatism was still rampant among many of these classes, as the capitalist economic forces promoted a natural relationship with the right-wing. Although, this was important as by 1908, Germany caused increased foreign tension across its boarders. The reason being is that Kaiser Wilhelm sought to expand his imperial dynasty across the 1871 borders of an Unified Germany, with a gaze towards the east. In broader terms, Germany was changing from the old pragmatic yet crude stance Bismarck had supported for so long, to the imperial ambitions of other European powers. This exuberant shift in the balance of power, which had began years before 1914, had played a key role in bolstering nationalism quite distinctly. One of Chikering’s main arguments is that many of these changes had an important effect on the psychology of the masses and the way they began to accept fervent nationalism, which is perhaps why people began seeing the Pan-German League as a more mainstream organization. Overall, Claß was at the right place and right time in German history. Although he had promoted old generational ideas, for the first time in decades they had become relevant, in the wake of a changing Germany and a unavoidable war.
The amount of historiography behind Heinrich Claß and his involvement within the Pan- German League is considerably poor, as very few English-Speaking historians have dedicated a satisfactory portion of their study in his respects. Most of the extensive studies on this subject still remain in the hands of German scholars and historians, published mainly after the Second World War, which have yet to be translated into English. The primary issues behind this is that much of the German documentation provides far more detail in the aspects of Claß’s preoccupations and influences on the Pan-German League, and some are comprehensive analyses of his ideology. Thus, although historians such as Levy, Chickering and Eley deal with Claß overall there is very little analysis and conceptualization of the man alone, but rather he is always placed within the larger schemes of German nationalism and the Verband. Moreover, much of the work that was published in the years preceding and after 1912 seem to not even mention Claß, primarily because of his continued presidency until 1939. For instance, both historians and scholars of English and German origins deviated away from the analysis of Claß, but only took the Pan-German perspective in the broader contexts of European history and Pan-Germanism. Both Usher and Wertheimer, who were on the different ends of the spectrum, both focused generally on the surge of Pan-Germanism and the role of the league in promoting it, but never does one suggest Claß’ immediate input. All in all, it is without a doubt that this has played a significant role in the way Claß has always been assumed to be a mere radical, rather than a promoter of the radicalism around him, found throughout the nation.
Heinrich Claß had opportunistically fostered the nationalist beliefs of his contemporaries, of which he shared passionately, and had managed to promote old ideas in distinctly relevant times. Much of his own doctrines on the expansion of Germany into the ‘Near East’, antisemitism and ideological purity were all elements that were carefully developed for decades and even centuries before 1908 in the broader contexts of German history. Moreover, many of these ideas were shared consistently by many of his peers, mentors, other nationalists and even Kaiser Wilhelm II. It is for this reason why it would be wrong to label Claß as a radical, as he was the normative element of stringent racism, and nationalist fever that overtook the nation in the years leading up to the war.Therefore, his influence on the Alldeustcher Verband was his ability to organize, and more importantly effectively agitate its members. When in 1916, the Verband was quoted to say that the war was one for “the struggle for existence” and that “men were divided into the weak and strong”, it was not Claß’ voice that made such words public, but the Alldeustcher Verband as a whole.
Milad Doroudian is a history student at the University of British Columbia and a writer. He is currently working on a book on the Jassy Pogrom of 1941, and is an active contributor at the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Press and The Times of Israel. Despite his interest and on-going research on the Jewish community of Romania, he is also planning to attend law school.
Published in The Art of Polemics, Issue 2, on Sept 9th, 2014.