Saint Louis University
1. A Radical Comparison
The year 1930 saw the publication of two of the most perceptive works ever written on the Great War: the essay by Ernst Jünger «Die totale Mobilmachung» (Total Mobilization) and the autobiographic novel Vaterlandslose Gesellen: Das erste Kriegsbuch eines Arbeiters (Fellows without Fatherland: The First War Book Written by a Worker), by the communist leader Adam Scharrer. These two works appeared at the peak of the golden age of the literature on the First World War which ran approximately from the end of the 1920s to the early 1930s. Arnold Zweig’s Der Streit um Sergeanten Grischa (The Case of Sergeant Grischa) and Edmund Blunden’s Undertones of War came out in 1927; Ernst Glaeser’s Jahrgang 1902 (Class 1902) and Ludwig Renn’s Krieg (War) in 1928; and in 1929 Richard Aldington’s Death of a Hero, Erich Maria Remarque’s Im Westen nichts Neues (All Quiet on the Western Front), and Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. Siegfried Sassoon’s Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, Frederick Manning’s Her Privates We, and Edlef Köppen’s Heeresbericht (Official Communiqué) would be published in 1930, and two years later Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s masterful novel Voyage au bout de la nuit (Journey to the End of the Night) appeared. Finally–to mention one last classic on the Great War published during those years–Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain’s extraordinary memoir, saw the light of day in 1933. These books, which together with other works, constitute today the core of the canon of the literature on the Great War, were received with public applause and critical acclaim; some of them even became international bestsellers. The publication of «Die totale Mobilmachung» and Vaterlandslose Gesellen in 1930 was, therefore, a timely one.
It is true that neither text has been as widely read as the aforementioned books. Jünger’s «Die totale Mobilmachung» was collected together with essays by other authors in an anthology titled Krieg und Krieger (War and Warriors) edited by Jünger himself . Despite the fact that it was reviewed by none other than Walter Benjamin , Krieg und Krieger has not garnered much attention. The impact of «Die totale Mobilmachung» has been proportional, perhaps inevitably, to its length (twenty pages in the standing German edition of Ernst Jünger’s complete works) , and cannot withstand comparison with the reception of the author’s seminal masterpiece on the Great War, In Stahlgewittern (Storm of Steel) (1920). The fate of Vaterlandslose Gesellen has been much grimmer . At the time of its publication, Scharrer’s first novel was welcomed with interest, meriting an extremely favorable review by Ludwig Renn . In 1930 Vaterlandslose Gesellen was rendered into Spanish as Gentes sin patria (Madrid, Ulises) and the following year into French with the title Les Sans-Patrie (Paris, Gallimard). But the Nazi ban of the novel first, and later the ideological strictures of the Cold War, hindered the continuous appreciation of a novel that does not conceal its communism. The author’s life after the so-called Machtergreifung did not help either . In 1933 Scharrer went into exile, first to Czechoslovakia and one year later to the Soviet Union; he remained there until the end of the Second World War. Scharrer would return to Germany in May 1945, settling in Schwerin, where he worked as a cultural functionary. Adam Scharrer died unexpectedly in 1948, and his works, while well-regarded in the German Democratic Republic (in 1961 the Akademie der Künste undertook the multi-volume publication of Scharrer’s Gesammelte Werke or collected works), fell almost into oblivion in the Federal Republic of Germany–a silence that has persisted, with some exceptions, up to the present . This relative silence, however, does not reflect the real value of «Die totale Mobilmachung» and Vaterlandslose Gesellen, nor their originality vis-à-vis the books that do belong to the canon of the literature written apropos of the First World War.
On first inspection, the comparison of these two works is certainly counterintuitive. «Die totale Mobilmachung» was written by a radical nationalist whose ideology in the 1920s and early 1930s could be perfectly characterized as philo-fascist. Works such as Der Kampf als inneres Erlebnis (Combat as Inner Experience) (1922) and Der Arbeiter (The Worker) (1932) bear witness to Jünger’s affinities with fascism. In sharp contrast with «Die totale Mobilmachung,» Vaterlandslose Gesellen was authored by a member of the Spartacus League and the Communist Workers’ Party of Germany (KAPD), in which Scharrer played a leading role during the stormy years of the Weimar Republic . Born to an upper-middle-class family, Ernst Jünger, the refined, somewhat aloof author of books that exalted war, violence, and the figure of the warrior (i.e., In Stahlgewittern, Der Kampf als inneres Erlebnis, Sturm [Attack] , Feuer und Blut [Fire and Blood] , and Das Wäldchen 125 [Forest 125] ), had little in common with Adam Scharrer, a trained metalworker from very humble origins who, before turning to writing, had worked as a turner, an assembly operator, a copy-editor, and an employee of the KAPD’s Berlin bookshop of workers’ literature. The subtitle of Vaterlandslose Gesellen, «Das erste Kriegsbuch eines Arbeiters,» condenses this information on the author’s social status and activities. The novels that Scharrer would write in the 1930s following Vaterlandslose Gesellen, devoted to exploring the problems of the urban proletariat (i.e., Der große Betrug [The Great Deceit] , Familie Schumann: Ein Berliner Roman [The Schumanns: A Berlin Novel] ) and the German peasantry (i.e., Maulwürfe [Moles] ), bear no resemblance whatsoever to Jünger’s novelistic production from the same period, namely an autobiographic Bildungsroman titled Afrikanische Spiele (African Diversions) (1936) and the memorable dystopia Auf den Marmorklippen (On the Marble Cliffs) (1939). If Hans Fallada has been said to be the novelist of the salaried employee or Angestellter (Kleiner Mann, was nun? [Little Man, What Now?]  is perhaps the best known instance of Fallada’s profound and sustained interest for that sector of the German population), Adam Scharrer may be described as the novelist of the German proletariat. Finally, as far as I know, Jünger and Scharrer never met, and even if they did, their respective personal backgrounds, political inclinations, and literary tastes would hardly have been conducive to creating a friendly atmosphere.
Having said this, the truth is that the undeniable differences between Jünger and Scharrer make all the more striking–and therefore worthy of examination–their points of overlap. In a seeming paradox, the contrasts between Jünger and Scharrer heighten the insightfulness of their interpretations of the First World War. By placing these two authors in counterpoint, by deploying, in short, a radical comparison, my purpose is to highlight, analyze, and vindicate two global readings of the Great War that reveal the connections between the Great War and its aftershocks on the one hand, and our own times on the other. Despite the relatively little interest generated by «Die totale Mobilmachung» and the silence that still surrounds Vaterlandslose Gesellen, I contend that these two works ought to be added to the literary canon on the Great War. As I hope to demonstrate, they offer new venues for the understanding not only of that military conflict, but also of its significance and long-ranging consequences. Unlike many books from the standing literary canon, «Die totale Mobilmachung» and Vaterlandslose Gesellen consider the First World War in connection with revolutionary social processes, depicting the war as a manifestation of globalizing forces that, one way or another, undermined the spatial order built around the nation-state. From very different intellectual perspectives and with almost opposite political agendas, both Jünger and Scharrer saw the Great War as the dawn of a new politico-spatial order that transcended and superseded the striation of the world into nation-states. Remarkably, the terms employed by both authors to portray this new order are reminiscent of some contemporary descriptions of our age of globalization. This dialogue with the present makes the reading of these two works a fascinating, revealing experience, bringing the Great War closer to our own historical horizon.
2. Total Mobilization
«Die totale Mobilmachung» is a transitional text in the oeuvre of Ernst Jünger . On the one hand, it articulates basic ideas and themes present in the works on the Great War that Jünger had published in the preceding years, such as the notion that the Great War constituted a transvaluator of all values, an epoch-changing event, the key for understanding the present; in Jünger’s view, the war meant the end of bourgeois society and the emergence of a «new man.» On the other hand, «Die totale Mobilmachung» sketches a theory that the author would fully develop in Der Arbeiter: I am referring, of course, to Jünger’s belief that war and its aftermath were the dawn of the age of the worker. This overlapping of themes and ideas is an index of the essay’s importance for the understanding of Jünger’s thinking and writing from 1920 to 1932. But aside from the function of the essay within Jünger’s oeuvre, what really makes this essay interesting for the contemporary reader is the main notion herein developed: total mobilization .
It would be a mistake to think that total mobilization is another expression for total war. The latter concept was first developed, if a bit confusedly, by Léon Daudet in his book La Guerre totale (Total War) (1918). By total war, Daudet understands «the expansion of fighting . . . into politics, economics, trade, industry, intellectual life, law, and the world of finance.» Not only do the armies fight each other, argues Daudet, but so too do «traditions, institutions, customs, codes, intellects, and specially, the banks.» Unfortunately, Daudet does not draw the full consequences of his theory. Instead of concluding, as some military theorists and historians would do years later, that the main countries involved in the Great War carried out a total war, for partisan propagandistic reasons he attributes the practice of total war to Germany alone . Erich Ludendorff’s «classic» account of total war in his book Der totale Krieg (Total War) (1935) would be much more consistent. While there are points of overlap between total mobilization and total war, the differences between the two concepts are important and decisive. Unlike total war, total mobilization refers to a phenomenon that applies to both military conflicts and the functioning of society in times of peace.
To begin with, Jünger points out what everybody knew in 1930: that the times are long gone in which it sufficed to muster a one-hundred-thousand-man army under professional leadership to wage war. What Jünger calls «partial mobilization» belongs to the essence of monarchy (p. 125). Throughout the nineteenth century the «spirit of progress» penetrated the «genius of war» (pp. 123, 125-26). Monarchy «oversteps its bounds» (pp. 125-26) as soon as it has to include the forces of democracy–basically, but not only, the people–in preparing for a war. This is something that Clausewitz had argued clearly in Vom Kriege (On War) (1832-34): after the French Revolution, wars will not be fought for the crown, but for the nation, they will be the affaire of all the citizens of a country–a fact that would radically transform the way of waging war . Jünger echoes this idea (p. 126) to conclude that «the image of war as armed conflict merges into the more extended image of a gigantic labor process» (p. 126). Thus, in addition to the armies that clash on the battlefield, there are the «modern armies of commerce and transport, foodstuffs, the manufacture of armaments–the army of labor in general» (p. 126). This phenomenon, which, according to Jünger, was not discernible at the beginning of the war, could be perfectly detected towards its end, when there was «no longer any movement whatsoever–not even that of the homeworker at her sewing machine—without at least some indirect use to the battlefield» (p. 126). Jünger sees «In this unlimited marshaling of potential energies . . . the most striking sign of the dawn of the age of labor,» which makes the First World War «a historical event superior in significance to the French Revolution» (p. 126).
The key factor of this «age of labor» is total mobilization. After verifying that «fitting one’s sword-arm» no longer suffices when countries have at their disposal such an enormous proportion of energies–energies much stronger in industrial democracies than in monarchic countries–, Jünger concludes that the carrying out of the mobilization befitting those energies is the task of total mobilization. This phenomenon is described, symptomatically, as if it were the industrial output of a gigantic machine: total mobilization is «an act which, as if through a single grasp of the control panel, conveys the extensively branched and densely veined power supply of modern life towards the greater current of martial energy» (pp. 126-27). This process, which according to Jünger was not visible in 1914, intensified as the conflict went on. Among the elements of total mobilization mentioned by Jünger stand out the planned management of foodstuffs and raw materials, the national guard duty, the arming of merchant vessels, and above all, two complementary, almost overarching, dimensions of total mobilization: the transposition of industrial conditions to military circumstances and the struggle conducted by the leadership of the German armed forces to merge military and political command (p. 127).
Now, the synergy between combat operations and the civilians’ work on the home front, between, as he says later, «the general staff and industry» (p. 127), which meant the total mobilization of the energies of the countries at arms, did not halt once the war was over. This is the phenomenon that truly indicates, in Jünger’s view, the epochal relevance of the Great War, that is to say, its decisive transforming character. His remarks on this matter constitute some of the most original insights of «Die totale Mobilmachung.» In the postwar period, Jünger writes, «many countries tailor new methods of armament to the patter on total mobilization» (p. 127). Ultimately, what this amounts to is nothing less than the militarization of life and work in theoretically democratic countries; such militarization entails the erosion of democracy and the curtailment of individual freedom. In a prescient observation that echoes in our present times, in which the so-called global war on terror has limited individual freedoms and has eroded democratic life in countries like the United States, Jünger argues that this «assault,» whose aim is none other than to «deny the existence of anything that is not the state,» took place in the Soviet Union and Italy first, and later on in Germany (p. 127). In yet another prophetic observation, he remarks that there will come a time in which «all countries with global aspirations [Weltansprüche] must take up the process in order to sustain the release of new forms of power» (p. 127). This side of total mobilization would be more visible after the Second World War, when the global imperial ambitions of the United States and the Soviet Union knew no bounds. Jünger refrains, however, from elaborating his predictions, and prefers to describe the essence of total mobilization. He sees it permeating the daily activities of the modern man. Thus modern life, «with its inexorability and merciless discipline,» its commerce, its machines, and its urban areas, is the result of total mobilization. With a «pleasure-tinged horror»–and thus with a mixed emotion akin to the one he had manifested in Der Kampf als inneres Erlebnis with respect to the «war of materiel» (Materialkrieg) fought in the First World War–Jünger asserts that in the world that emerged after the Great War «not a single atom is not in motion» (p. 128). Everybody is profoundly involved in this «raging process» (p. 128). Total mobilization, Jünger concludes in an important passage, consummates itself: in war as well as in peace, «it expresses the secret and inexorable claim to which our life in the age of masses and machines subjects us. It thus turns out that each individual life becomes, ever more unambiguously, the life of a worker; and that, following the wars of knights, kings, and citizens, we now have wars of workers» (p. 128). The Great War has offered a foreboding of both the rational structure and mercilessness of this sort of war (p. 128).
The technical side of total mobilization is not, however, decisive. «Its basis–like that of all technology–lies deeper. We shall address it here as the readiness for mobilization. This readiness was present everywhere: the World War was one of the most popular wars known to history» (p. 129). The readiness for mobilization is far more extended in liberal democracies than in monarchies. Progress, «nineteenth century’s popular Church» (p. 129), was, according to Jünger, the source of the Great War’s «effective appeal to the great masses . . . This appeal alone accounts for the decisive aspect of their total mobilization . . . Shirking the war was all the less possible in proportion to the degree of their conviction» (pp. 129-30). Moreover, «the progressive system’s unexpected powers of resistance, even in a situation of great weakness, are striking» (p. 130). This explains in part the fact that, in the end, the United States turned out to be the real victorious nation to emerge from the war: «in the United States with its democratic constitution, mobilization could be executed with a rigor that was impossible in Prussia, where the right to vote was based on class» (p. 130). The course of war was decided «not by the degree to which a state was a ‘military state,’ but by the degree to which it was capable of total mobilization» (p. 130), and thus the liberal democracies, particularly the United States, had a great advantage over Germany, where «despite all the care with which it undertook partial mobilization, large areas of its strength escaped total mobilization» (pp. 130-31).
In sum: total mobilization–conceived of in part as a «mode of organizational thinking»–is nothing more than «an intimation of that higher mobilization that the age is discharging upon us. Characteristic of this latter type of mobilization is an inner lawfulness, to which human laws must correspond in order to be effective» (p. 134). Jünger explains this point by discussing the fact that «during war forces can emerge that are directed against war itself» (p. 134). This is an issue treated at much greater length by Adam Scharrer in Vaterlandslose Gesellen, a novel that pays attention to the anti-war movement in Germany as well as the November Revolution. Jünger’s language is more abstract and takes for granted that the reader knows what the author is talking about. Jünger elaborates ideas novelized by Scharrer; bearing in mind the German case, he says: «Total mobilization shifts its sphere of operations, but not its meaning, when it begins to set in motion, instead of the armies of war, the masses in a civil war. The conflict now invades spheres that are off limits to the commands of military mobilization. It is as if the forces that could not be marshaled for the war now demanded their role in the bloody engagement» (p. 134). The conclusion drawn by Jünger is perfectly logical: «the more unified and profound the war’s capacity to summon, from the outset, all possible forces for its cause, the surer and more imperturbable its course will be » (p. 134).
The two concluding sections of «Die totale Mobilmachung» are very interesting and, as we will see, can be extrapolated to Adam Scharrer’s first novel. In these sections, Jünger reviews the international political arena. He sees the dilution of patriotism through a new kind of nationalism. «In Fascism, Bolshevism, Americanism, Zionism, in the movements of colored peoples, progress has made advances that until recently would have seemed unthinkable» (p. 137). This progress disregards freedom and sociability, and «it is starting to rule nations in ways not very different from those of an absolute regime» (p. 137). At the same time, «esteem for quantity [Massen] is increasing: quantity of assent, quantity of public opinion has become the decisive factor in politics. Socialism and nationalism in particular are the two great milestones between which progress pulverizes what is left of the old world, and eventually itself» (p. 138). And he writes: «Today everywhere the reality of each side’s identity is becoming more and more apparent; even the dream of freedom is disappearing, as if in the iron grasp of pliers. The movements of uniformly molded masses, trapped in the snare set by the world-spirit, comprise a great and tearful spectacle. Each of these movements leads to a sharper, more merciless grasp» (p. 138), ominously adding, «Happy is he alone who steps armed into these spaces» (p. 138). The pessimism of the assessment is clear. But what stands out from these last comments is Jünger’s consideration of total mobilization as a phenomenon that expands throughout the world after the Great War, as well as his negative evaluation of the consequences that a total mobilization–born out, let us not forget, in connection with the military–has for democracy and individual freedoms. In the first conclusion, total mobilization is characterized as a globalizing force. In the second, this force is seen as having a negative impact on the functioning of liberal democracies.
3. War Writing and Transnational Class Warfare
In Vaterlandslose Gesellen Adam Scharrer creates a fictional universe articulated by total mobilization . While the author’s ideology and poetics ultimately built upon historical materialism, the novel can be read as a fictionalization of the total mobilization theorized by Ernst Jünger. «Die totale Mobilmachung» and Vaterlandslose Gesellen are related in a sort of symbiotic fashion: Jünger’s essay puts forth a theory of total mobilization and Scharrer’s novel displays a «possible world» moved by and organized around it. The former looks at its laws, as it were, from the outside; the latter uncovers some of its inner workings.
Scharrer depicts total mobilization in the framework of two interrelated situations. In the first situation, total mobilization sets off and articulates the synergy between the military activities proper and the population’s participation in the war effort through work in factories. In the second, Scharrer’s novel portrays total mobilization in the context of a violent, warlike conflict between the German proletariat and the political status quo, namely the government and the owners of the means of production. The novel shows the links that connect the two wars and their underlying total mobilization, reflecting a relationship remarked upon also by Ernst Jünger who wrote: «These two phenomena, world war and world revolution, are much more closely related than a first glance would indicate. They are two sides of an event of cosmic significance, whose outbreak and origins are interdependent in numerous respects.» In Vaterlandslose Gesellen the first of the two wars presupposes a world striated into nation-states grouped within opposing politico-military alliances; the military conflict consists of the confrontation between nations: it is therefore an international issue. In contrast, the second war described in the novel is predicated on a world where national boundaries have partially lost their usual meaning; as recounted by Scharrer, class warfare transcends national boundaries, and the relations among workers from different countries take place within a space that is not properly international, since they do not follow the logic of the nation, but that of class interest. Moreover, their problems stem not from the state, but rather from a transnational entity–capitalism. For this reason, class warfare has to be considered as a transnational war.
In the context of the novel’s ideological parameters, one war cannot be understood without the other; they supplement each other partly because both originate in the same phenomena–total mobilization and the inner contradictions of capitalism. As if to underscore this point, the story told in Vaterlandslose Gesellen starts in the early weeks of the Great War and ends with the outbreak of the November Revolution in Germany. This structure presents the working class’ revolutionary aims from a utopian point of view. Whereas at the beginning the workers are bound by their own leaders’ support for the war and the military mobilization, at the end they are shown on the offensive, taking over Berlin and momentarily bringing about a proletarian revolution. Revolutionary total mobilization replaces the total mobilization deployed apropos of the military conflict. In more general terms, the overlapping of the two wars creates a complex, almost self-contradictory space. On the one hand, it is a space striated into nation-states. On the other, it carries within itself its own transcendence, that is to say, the conditions for its potential implosion because the transnational total mobilization narrated in the novel aims ultimately at the superseding of the nation-state; it aims, to put it differently, at the revolutionary creation of a utopian global politico-spatial order.
Based on the author’s own life, Vaterlandslose Gesellen tells the vicissitudes of Hans Betzoldt, a turner and socialist sympathizer, from the beginning of the war to the November Revolution. Jobless, disappointed with the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) for its support of the war, reluctant on political grounds to become a soldier, Betzoldt initially refuses to do his duty and submit to conscription; he even assumes for a while a false identity in order to avoid serving in the military; in the end, however, the social pressure is too strong, and he ends up reclaiming his real identity and submitting to conscription. After his induction and training, Betzoldt is sent first to the Western front as an infantryman (chapters 6-8), and later to the Eastern front, this time as an artilleryman (chapters 11-12, 14-18, 20-21). On several occasions Betzoldt is commissioned to work in munitions factories (chapters 10 and 12). At the end, through the influence of an acquaintance of his, he is exempted from the army and is told to go to Berlin to work in a munitions factory (chapters 21-27). A class-conscious worker, Betzoldt will participate in the activities of the Workers’ Councils and in the strikes and demonstrations of January and November 1918 (chapters 24-27) .
A soldier and a worker, Hans Betzoldt plays the role of what Michel de Certeau has called a bridge . He connects spaces (the home front, the front), places (small towns at the front, Hamburg, Essen, Berlin), institutions (the army, industry), actions and events (war service at the front, work in munitions factories, meetings with the Workers’ Councils, representation of workers as a shop steward, participation in strikes and demonstrations in Berlin). Scharrer skillfully intertwines individual destiny and collective history by immersing the main character in the political struggles of his time. Not only do his socialist, pro-Spartacus League ideas place him at the center of class warfare. In addition, his unnegotiable sense of justice, his humble family background, and most especially, his rebellious nature (he confronts his officers on several occasions [e.g., pp. 44, 106-7, 118-20, 136-37, 144-46]) motivate Betzoldt’s active participation in class warfare.
The novel alternates the description of front-line scenes with the portrayal of the worsening conditions on the home front. As an instance of war writing, Vaterlandslose Gesellen articulates the usual topoi of the genre as it was practiced by many authors who wrote on the Great War. These topoi acquire a new light thanks to the original point of view taken up by the novelist–a point of view suggested in the very subtitle: the novel is «the first war book written by a worker»; Scharrer’s novel focuses on the proletariat, and its ideological standpoint is markedly pro-communist. The novel contains combat scenes, but they are not many and do not depict warfare with the detail and crudeness of, say, Henri Barbusse’s Le Feu (Under fire) (1916), Roland Dorgelès’ Les Croix de bois (Wooden Crosses) (1919), Erich Maria Remarque’s Im Westen nichts Neues or Edlef Köppen’s Heeresbericht. Like so many narratives on the First World War, Vaterlandslose Gesellen centers on the tribulations and suffering of the rank and file: suffering in the garrison when receiving basic military training, suffering because of unjust treatment by officers, suffering due to endless and seemingly senseless marches, suffering caused by combat, suffering on account of all the lies told by military propaganda and journalists, suffering, finally, when confronted again with a civilian life to which the war-time veteran adapts only with difficulty–if at all. Furthermore, Vaterlandslose Gesellen has an intertextual dialogue with other war novels on the Great War. Thus the scenes of endless marching on the Eastern front (pp. 101-3) are intertextually related to a similar passage in Barbusse’s Le Feu . The episodes in which Betzoldt feels alienated in Hamburg while on furlough (pp. 80-83, 107-8) recall–to point out one last intertextual dialogue–the passage from Remarque’s Im Westen nichts Neues in which the narrator recounts a visit to his family during a leave .
Now, although this is a war novel, war and the army are treated within a larger socio-political context, and they do not receive as much attention as they get in, say, Jünger’s In Stahlgewittern, Arnold Zweig’s Der Streit um Sergeanten Grischa, Ludwig Renn’s Krieg or Frederick Manning’s Her Privates We. In this sense Vaterlandslose Gesellen is more akin to Ford Madox Ford’s tetralogy Parade’s End (1924-28), with one big, essential difference: whereas Ford’s novels–particularly Some Do Not… (1924) and The Last Post (1928)–situate the war within the context of the British upper class, placing much attention on interpersonal relationships and psychological factors by means of modernist literary techniques, Vaterlandslose Gesellen focuses on the war and its connection to the urban German proletariat through the lens of realism–a realism that gives more prominence to social, historical, and political issues than to the psychological constitution and development of the characters.
Scharrer is not interested in fictionalizing the war as a discrete entity. In fact, his novel demonstrates the impossibility of understanding war without considering other factors. Specifically, Vaterlandslose Gesellen brings to the fore the close relation between the Great War and class warfare. Betzoldt and other characters explicitly elaborate, in dialogues and in reproduced or reported speeches, the idea that the military conflict cannot be understood without taking into consideration capitalism and class struggle. Betzoldt says as much early in the novel:
I see how the mass of capital owned by the great capitalists and banking groups moves abroad. I see railroads, streets, irrigation plants, gold mines, and mining plants grow out of this money. I see . . . armies that emerge in order to protect grifted wealth and to pin down and exploit the proletarians. I see that capitalism must carry this criminal policy to the extreme because the greed for profit drives it throughout the world, and now the fight between predators has broken out. (p. 52)
A minor character in one of the workers’ meetings narrated in the novel promotes a similar notion. Wearing a soldier’s uniform, he speaks of the German capitalists’ demands «to annex Belgium and France, to expropriate the French heavy industry,» and he mentions their «demands for the expansion of the Eastern borders» and their «call for new colonies»; neither of this «is related to the ‘defense of the fatherland’, it has to do with capitalistic interests that aim at controlling other peoples and the violent oppression of foreign territories» (p. 110). As another character states in a Marxist rephrasing of Clausewitz’s celebrated definition of war, «war is nothing else than the continuation of capitalistic policies with other means!» (p. 189).
Class struggle itself is portrayed as a violent, warlike conflict. At the end of his evocation of his childhood and early youth, the narrator is at pains to reaffirm his class solidarity with all workers, and he does so by using a vocabulary in part drawn from the language of war: since the death of his father thirteen years have elapsed, writes Betzoldt, and what came then was «the fight against the unpalatable proletarian life» (p. 14). He has «fought hard» (p. 14) and, he adds, «I have not escaped from being stigmatized because I fought with other likeminded people so that those who lack rights throughout the world could join their voices, on May Day, into one single cry of unity to the whole world» (p. 14). Again using an image borrowed from the language of war, Betzoldt explains in chapter 25 that a «great army of workers» (p. 238) is ready to take part in the munitions workers’ strike and demonstration planned for January 1918. At the end of that chapter the narrator employs the same expression to refer to the workers who participated in the strike in Berlin: they constituted a «great army» (p. 253).
The scenes of urban warfare narrated in the closing chapters of Vaterlandslose Gesellen demonstrate that the expression class warfare has a literal, more ominous meaning than the usual one. At the end of the novel, which covers a temporal frame that goes from January to November 1918, the front has been transferred to civilian space. Betzdolt has been recalled to Berlin, away from the war. In principle, this means that he will be safe. But being in Berlin does not exempt him from fighting. Quite the opposite: Betzoldt has been removed from a rather quiet front (on 15 December 1917 Russia and the Central Powers announced an armistice, and on 3 March 1918 the two delegations signed at Brest-Litovsk a peace treaty) and sent to a place that has become a potentially dangerous battlefield. In fact, there is more dramatic tension and a far stronger sense of danger in these last chapters than in those devoted to narrating life at the front. Scharrer narrates two main urban clashes between the police and the «great army» made up by workers: a strike and demonstration in Berlin in January 1918 (chapter 25) and the November Revolution in that city (chapter 27).
The clashes between workers and the police during the strike of munitions workers in January 1918 are narrated in detail. Initially the workers, after peacefully marching through the streets of Berlin, come across menacing detachments of heavily armed troops (p. 241). Workers and troops are face to face, ready to fight each other. «The front of the mounted Blue uniforms,» writes the narrator, «forms to attack, the swords are drawn, the holsters are open. But the crowds remain silent, with scorn drawn on their faces» (p. 242). This tense quiet, however, doesn’t last long. At some point, «the Blue ones» begin the attack on the workers: «‘The Blue ones!’ The shout propagated like an alert. Sharp shots cracked from below. Then the uniforms of a patrol showed up at the double; they came across the whole street and the sidewalk. They shot on the long, straight avenue. . . . Everybody vanished into the houses» (p. 244). Betzoldt takes cover in a building, from which he sees how «The defenders of the fatherland, who were shooting, ran forward as if on the attack» (p. 244). The ironic insistence on calling the police «defenders of the fatherland» (Vaterlandsverteidiger) places them in opposition to the «fellows without fatherland» (vaterlandslose Gesellen) in a binary structure that deconstructs its terms, for the «defenders of the fatherland» attack fellow citizens, and therefore they do not behave as true defenders of the country. Even when the workers are not a threat, police detachments patrol the city, thereby making Berlin a sort of occupied city (p. 250).
In the last chapter the narrator recounts the November Revolution in Germany as if it were a war of conquest. «The avalanche rolls,» states Betzoldt somewhat elated, «in Kiel the first stone loosens. Under the seamen flickers the flame of rebellion. Factories open up. The workers from Kiel show solidarity with the seamen. The agitation sets in again. The mounted police form to attack. The Blue ones shoulder their carbines again» (p. 269). And he states shortly afterwards: «But now Spartacus forms the masses to attack» (p. 269). When Betzoldt arrives into the city, he confirms, employing military language, that «Berlin hasn’t fallen yet» (p. 271). The strike and demonstration start shortly after Betzoldt’s arrival. Strategies characteristic of war writing are deployed to narrate this instance of urban warfare: «In the Humboldthain stand the workers from the Schwartzkopff Works. Thousands. We march on. Our next objective is the AEG, on the Voltastraße. Here women predominate. In front of the demonstrating people go armed workers and soldiers» (pp. 272-73). It is a triumphal march that not even the soldiers garrisoned in Berlin dare to stop. «Those who are armed don’t yield. They run for cover with weapons with the safety catch released» (p. 274). The narrator recounts that «Doors slam. The ones who are armed climb over the gateways. The garrison is seized in no time. The guards surrender their weapons. Officers are disarmed; their insignia are taken off» (p. 274). After marching through the city, the workers conquer the urban space and put a red flag on the City Palace (Schloß)–an episode narrated, once again, as if it were a military conquest:
A crowd forms in Unter den Linden. The masses swarm from the Brandenburg Gate to the City Palace. From the City Palace back to the former Torwache. Here, where just yesterday stood the soldiers from the 1st Guards regiment, now stand armed workers and soldiers with red cockades. We march back to the City Palace. . . . The battalions of workers are victorious also in the west and in the south. All of Berlin has joined up. The mass of millions of workers has suppressed the last resistance. Everything is in our hands. From the side streets comes a song. ‘Red is the cloth that we uncoil!’ Karl Liebknecht speaks. Over the City Palace flies the red flag. (p. 275)
It must be added that this is not the first time that the rearguard acquires the aspect of the front. Earlier in the novel the narrator had already compared both spaces, noticing significant resemblances between the two of them. Thus, referring to the men and women who work in factories, Betzoldt writes: «The ten thousand that every morning and every evening stream in and out the factory gates by the dozens–this is the war’s civilian countenance. The ghost of the trenches follows them day and night. They are marked by hunger. They all go–so it seems to me–as if they carried an onerous burden. They live in crowded holes, their gaze is dark like the color of the walls. It lies on their faces like coal dust. They go silent, once in a while someone grumbles, but in such a way that no unauthorized person can hear it» (p. 91). All these workers are depicted by the narrator as inhabitants of occupied places (p. 92). This last constituent of the workplace is further reinforced when the government militarizes the factories, a measure that transforms the home front into an extension of the front, in the sense that both spaces are now controlled by the army (pp. 109, 249). In short: there is a war of sorts taking place on the home front; as Betzoldt himself puts it, «also here there is plenty of war» (p. 214).
Class warfare in Germany is considered, however, not in isolation, but as part of the international workers’ movement, whose very nature both questions and transcends the boundaries of the modern nation-state. In their essence, both capitalism and class warfare exceed the limits of the state, they are transnational phenomena. As in similar cases, Hans Betzoldt functions as the bridge between national class warfare and the transnational socialist movement. Being a soldier, he meets workers from other countries. In most if not all instances in which he encounters them, class solidarity and ideological affinities predominate over the animosity expected among people whose countries are at war.
The first instance of transnational class solidarity and ideological affinities can be found in the passage from chapter 8 that recounts Betzoldt’s convalescence in a military hospital in France. One day the French woman who went daily to clean the floor of the big room overheard a discussion among the recovering soldiers about who is to blame for the outbreak of the war. And then something happened that left a deep impression on Betzoldt: the French woman left what she was doing and said in broken German: «International capitalism is the culprit! The International of workers is kaput! All traitors, in Allemagne there is only one who is not: Liebknecht!» (p. 73). After this intervention, she resumes her work while quietly crying. Moved, hardly able to contain his own tears, Betzoldt shakes her hand (p. 73). The following chapter contains a similar scene. Betzoldt and other comrades are looking for a place to spend the night, and after a while they find a house in a small Polish town. Climbing up the stairs, Betzoldt notices that on the walls there are pictures of Jewish Zionists and, next to them, an image of Karl Marx. «We point at the pictures,» writes Betzoldt, «and want to ask if we are staying with comrades. They don’t seem to understand completely. ‘A great man!’ says the old woman and she points at the image of Karl Marx. We confirm lively, and they understand who we are» (p. 98). As in the episode of the French woman, on this occasion there is the tacit mutual recognition, on the part of Betzoldt and the Polish peasant, of belonging to the same social class, of sharing the same class interests and even the same socialist ideology.
These episodes are far from isolated, minor episodes in the novel. The novel inserts more of them, and it even provides a climactic summary in one of the final chapters. During his sojourn in Warsaw, where he is receiving additional training as artilleryman, Betzoldt goes out of his way to meet local workers. By his own avowal, he would like to establish contact with Polish workers in order to explain to them the growing opposition among the German workers against the war and the government, and also because Betzoldt believes that the problems endured by the German proletariat are the same everywhere (pp. 157-58). Through a fellow local turner, he is invited to participate in a small meeting of Polish workers (pp. 158-60). There Betzoldt reports on the revolutionary movement in Germany, the divisions among the social democrats, and the poverty and hunger endured by many Germans (p. 158); he concludes, crucially: «Occupied territory: this is the predicament of the proletariat in all countries. The enemy is in their own country!» (158-59). Initially, the Polish workers’ response is one of skepticism; they remark that the far-from-friendly behavior of many German soldiers with respect to the local population has made their lives difficult, in the process stirring a potentially problematic nationalist movement in Poland (p. 159). Betzoldt decides then to change strategy, and starts to talk about his own experiences. After listening to Betzoldt’s story with interest, one of them summarizes what they all felt: «Exactly like us» (p. 159). They all realize that the predicament of the German proletariat and of the Polish workers is the same, and so is the enemy–capitalism. As in the episode of the French woman, they shake hands and part on friendly terms (p. 160). The last sentence of the dialogue, which is also the end of the chapter, sums up the transnational dimension of the class struggle: the Polish worker who invited Betzoldt to the meeting asks him to please «give our regards to the comrades in Germany!» (p. 160).
The significance of all these episodes is highlighted in a passage from chapter 24. In a meeting of workers, Hans Betzoldt takes the floor and talks in terms that clearly imply the constitutive transnationality of class warfare. As he speaks, he is addressing not only the people attending the meeting, but also the workers whom he has met abroad:
I see in front of me the defeated hoarders, I see the faces of the Polish workers. I see the comrades from my battery, I see Sophie, I see the French proletarian woman, I see the old Polish lady. I see mankind covered in scratches and their enemies . . . I start to speak, to speak to all of them. Way in the back, it seems to me, I see Karl Liebknecht . . . I speak to them all. (p. 227)
This episode constitutes, therefore, the climax of Betzoldt’s encounters with foreign workers. As Betzoldt himself had claimed earlier, international solidarity is a precondition for bringing about an end to war and ultimately to capitalism: «I see that only the international proletariat can annihilate this Hydra, that only upon the international solidarity of the proletarians can mankind arise from the infamy of this criminal murderous frenzy» (p. 52). To keep the movement at the national level won’t change much. Revolution must take place on an international scale. This is precisely one of the main points debated in a meeting of workers recounted in chapter 20 (see especially p. 191). The transnational dimension of the worker’s movement (that is, of revolutionary total mobilization) is further emphasized through the workers’ demonstration in Berlin in January 1918, which is explicitly understood as the beginning of a movement that will spread beyond Germany’s boundaries (p. 241).
The very title of the novel conveys the notion that class warfare is a transnational phenomenon. The now old-fashioned German expression vaterlandslose Gesellen or «fellows without fatherland» was coined at the end of the nineteenth century to refer in a derogatory manner to communists, socialists, and social democrats. Under the premise that they prioritized the working class’ interests within an international context over the country’s specific concerns and objectives, those groups were considered by conservative sectors of German society as unpatriotic; they were nothing other than «fellows without fatherland.» Later in the twentieth century the expression would also be used to label–among other groups–the Jewish people. Adam Scharrer employs it in a descriptive fashion; all the negative connotations have been lifted: vaterlandslose Gesellen simply applies to the urban working class. The proud, self-assured adoption of an expression originally coined to demean segments of the population borders, of course, on provocation, but it has to be seen as part of the strategies deployed throughout the novel to demonstrate the transnationality of the working class’ struggle against its oppressors.
At the time of its publication, any reader of German would understand the connotations of the title. From the cover of the novel Scharrer wanted to leave no doubt whatsoever as to the identity of the true protagonist of the novel: a politically class-conscious socialist collective of workers whose aims ultimately undermine the boundaries of the German nation. In the novel it appears only once. Since the expression is the title of the narrative and was well known by the reading public, there was no need to employ it more often. On chapter 7 the narrator uses the expression to differentiate the class-conscious urban proletariat from the peasantry. The passage is interesting because it reaffirms the fact that «vaterlandslose Gesellen» are those workers who are aware of their class predicament as well as its political solutions. On the Western front, Hans Betzoldt befriends a peasant named Döring. Despite sharing important characteristics with the urban workers (e.g., low wages), despite being, like those workers, exploited by his bosses, Döring does not belong to the group of Betzoldt and his fellow soldiers, all of them pertaining to the urban proletariat. Perhaps the narrator’s statement sounds slightly patronizing to modern ears, but in truth at the time this distinction between politically conscious workers and workers unaware of their class interests was quite important: the only thing that the peasant Döring had heard about the «fellows without fatherland» is that they «belonged to the gallows»; moreover, «he didn’t understand much of what we discussed–but he sensed that we were his real comrades» (p. 67).
In other passages of his story the narrator employs words related to the expression vaterlandslose Gesellen. Thus at the beginning of the novel Betzoldt insists that he has not escaped from the fate of «wandering through the fatherland, homeless [heimatlos], under frost and snow» (p. 14). Many pages later, he establishes a distinction between the officers, who usually came from the middle and upper classes, and the rank and file, composed mostly by individuals from peasant or proletarian background. One of the differences consists of the following: «The proletarians often didn’t have before that time a roof over their heads, they were homeless in their own homeland [heimatlos in ihrer Heimat], they ate paltry leftovers in times of unemployment» (p. 140). In these two passages, the word heimatlos means «homeless,» but its association with the noun Heimat («home,» «homeland,» «home country»), particularly explicit in the second of those two quotations, adds a new semantic layer to the adjective. Heimatlos in ihrer Heimat has therefore a wider, more general meaning–a meaning that directly relates it to the expression vaterlandslose Gesellen. This mutual relationship enriches each phrase. The former projects to the latter a dramatic economic situation: the «vaterlandslose Gesellen» have to endure losing jobs, many of them lack proper housing, most suffer from hunger–they are «heimatlos in ihrer Heimat.» In turn, the «heimatlos in ihrer Heimat» have a political awareness of their predicament and a will to struggle for their rights, and thus they can be considered as «vaterlandslose Gesellen.» Either way, the «vaterlandslose Gesellen,» the fellows «without fatherland» and «without a home» make a virtue of necessity: they may be homeless, but their true home lies in class solidarity beyond the boundaries of the nation. It consists of the political unity of all left-wing parties and trade unions, which will fight in order to bring about a world without classes and borders–a world, in short, that will be the home for everybody. Theodor W. Adorno once wrote that «it is part of morality not to be at home in one’s home.» . Vaterlandslosigkeit and Heimatlosigkeit can be read under precisely this ethical framework as well. From the outside, one can see things clearer. There is an ethics of revolutionary total mobilization. The condition of lacking a country or a home hinders accommodation, sharpens the gaze, refines criticism, and constitutes, in the context of Vaterlandslose Gesellen, the precondition for achieving a utopian transnational global home.
4. From a Global War to a Global World
Today it is a commonplace to consider the Great War as the first truly global war in the history of mankind. Not only was it fought simultaneously on many different theaters, from France to Russia, from Flanders to Italy, from the North Atlantic to the African continent, Turkey, and the Middle East; not only were whole regiments drawn from faraway colonies and the British dominions; not only was the population of the warring countries mobilized to participate in the war effort, and in the process suffer food shortages and hunger. In addition, the Great War deployed in the battlefields the incessant industrial output of nations whose leadership initially believed, with criminal optimism, that the conflict would be over in a few weeks. The logic of war conditioned political and economic decisions, and not the other way around. Democratic life was curtailed, while national economy became, to a great extent, a function of the armed forces: war thus turned into what Paul Virilio has called «pure war.» Everything and everybody was mobilized to participate in the war. To say it with Jüngerian terms, the countries had at their disposal an almost universal readiness for total mobilization. Once unleashed, nothing would stop total mobilization: the war may have ended, but total mobilization went on, expanding throughout the world. Historians have also written extensively on the changes brought about by the war on the societies involved in the conflict, as well as the impact that the war had on the world as a whole. The dissolution of the old dynastic empires (the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire), the Bolshevik Revolution, the creation of new nations, and the foundation of the League of Nations are some of the better known aftereffects of the Great War.
Some of these ideas already circulated in the wake of the war. For instance, the notion of total war was developed for the first time, as we have already seen, in a book by Léon Daudet published in 1918. The sense of having lived through a radical transformative experience was pervasive, and one only need read war memoirs written in the 1920s and early 1930s to realize the extent as well as the social, political, and psychological implications of that sense of change. The title of Robert Graves’ splendid war memoir, Good-bye to All That (1929), clearly summarizes that perception of epochal transformation. Ernst Jünger and Adam Scharrer absorbed, therefore, ideas that circulated in their own time. But they did so by applying to them a distinct and insightful original gaze. Jünger shaped them under an elegant theoretical framework, and proposed a new concept, total mobilization, that defined both the war and the age that it inaugurated. His phenomenology of total mobilization is groundbreaking. In turn, Scharrer approached the connection between war and revolution from a communist, utopian point of view, and he did so through a fictionalization of total mobilization. The subtitle of the novel («Das erste Kriegsbuch eines Arbeiters») points out indirectly the novelty of the author’s gaze: Vaterlandslose Gesellen is indeed one of the first war books ever written by a worker, and it is also one of the first works on the Great War devoted to exploring the ways in which the war affected the urban proletariat in 1914-18. The perspective taken by both Jünger and Scharrer goes beyond the conflict itself, establishing links between the past, the present, and a possible future.
Ernst Jünger and Adam Scharrer viewed the Great War from a global perspective. In «Die totale Mobilmachung» and Vaterlandslose Gesellen the war is understood both as a symptom of an epochal transformation and as an agent of radical change. Although each text takes a different ideological standpoint, Jünger’s essay and Scharrer’s novel ultimately describe the emergence of a new world. According to them, the Great War has brought about an expanding social and political uniformity and the implosion of the nation-state. Consequently, since the politico-spatial order of modernity is based on the striation of the world into nation-states, the war has created potential conditions for the breaking-up of the modern world. Total mobilization and transnational class warfare are by definition expansive: nothing can stop total mobilization, and only a revolution will eliminate class differences and class warfare. As we can see in «Die totale Mobilmachung» and in Vaterlandslose Gesellen, modernity carries within itself the seeds of its own destruction. Scharrer would not live long enough to see the truly global dimension of the process that he intuited. But Jünger did. His reflection on total mobilization as a globalizing vector would be followed up by essays fully devoted to the globalization of the world: I am thinking particularly of the essay Der Weltstaat (The World-State) (1960), which portrays a globalized world in terms reminiscent of the discussions on globalization that would take place beginning in the 1990s. Der Weltstaat also demonstrates the depth of Jünger’s interest in a phenomenon that he explored for the first time in his essay on total mobilization.
In our age of globalization, in these transitional times towards what seems to be a new epoch in world history, «Die totale Mobilmachung» and Vaterlandslose Gesellen acquire an unexpected validity, for these two works describe phenomena that would expand to the rest of the world several decades after their publication in 1930. Both texts talk about their present in such a way that the contemporary reader can easily connect the Great War with our own times. Presently, total mobilization and transnational class warfare are the order of the day in a world articulated by global war and controlled by transnational capitalism . In a process that according to some sociologists started in the 1980s , today the nation-state has lost its old meaning. National boundaries have been eroded by structural changes across the world, and total mobilization (of migrants, exiles, refugees, workers, transnational businessmen and politicians, among other nomadic groups) and transnational class warfare (expressed in part through transnational political activism interconnected by means of communication such as the Internet) are two of the most visible globalizing forces undermining the nation-state. Ernst Jünger’s «Die totale Mobilmachung» and Adam Scharrer’s Vaterlandslose Gesellen demonstrate that some of the driving energies of the set of processes known today as «globalization» can be dated back to the first decades of the twentieth century, thereby showing that the Great War is an event that needs to be revisited in order for us to better understand a hazy global present.