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villages  in  the  vicinity.  Hunger,  and  the  sight  of  their  burning  homes,  finally  brought  the
peasants  to  surrender  (July  25).  More  than  twenty  were  immediately  executed.  Knopf  of
Luibas, the only leader of this troop who did not betray his banner, fled to Biegenz. There
he was captured, however, and hanged, after a long imprisonment.
With this, the Peasant War in Suabia and Franconia came to an end.
The Peasant War in Germany
– 77 –

Chapter 6


The Peasant War in Thuringia, Alsace and Austria


Immediately  after  the  outbreak  of  the  first  movement  in  Suabia,  Thomas  Muenzer  again
hurried  to  Thuringia,  and  since  the  end  of  February  and  the  beginning  of  March,  he
established  his  quarters  in  the  free  imperial  city  of  Muehlhausen,  where  his  party  was
stronger than elsewhere. He held the threads of the entire movement in his hand. He knew
what storm was about to break in Southern Germany, and he undertook to make Thuringia
the centre of the movement for North Germany. He found very fertile soil. Thuringia, the
main  arena  of  the  Reformation  movement,  was  in  the  grip  of  great  unrest.  The  economic
misery  of  the  downtrodden  peasants,  as  well  as  the  current  revolutionary,  religious  and
political  doctrine,  had  also  prepared  the  neighbouring  provinces,  Hesse,  Saxony,  and  the
region  of  the  Harz,  for  the  general  uprising.  In  Muehlhausen  itself,  whole  masses  of  the
lower middle-class had been won over to the extreme Muenzer doctrine, and could hardly
wait  for  the  moment  when  they  would  assert  themselves  by  a  superiority  of  numbers
against the haughty honourables. In order not to start before the proper moment, Muenzer
was compelled to appear in the role of moderator, but his disciple, Pfeifer, who conducted
the movement there, had committed himself to such an extent that he could not hold back
the  outbreak,  and  as  early  as  March  17,  1525,  before  the  general  uprising  in  Southern
Germany, Muehlhausen had its revolution. The old patrician council was overthrown, and
the government was handed over to the newly-elected “eternal council,” with Muenzer as
president.
The worst thing that can befall a leader of an extreme party is to be compelled to take
over a government in an epoch when the movement is not yet ripe for the domination of
the class which he represents and for the realisation of the measures which that domination
would imply. What he can do depends not upon his will but upon the sharpness of the clash
of  interests  between  the  various  classes,  and  upon  the  degree  of  development  of  the
material means of existence, the relations of production and means of communication upon
which the clash of interests of the classes is based every time. What he ought to do, what
his party demands of him, again depends not upon him, or upon the degree of development
of  the  class  struggle  and  its  conditions.  He  is  bound  to  his  doctrines  and  the  demands
hitherto propounded which do not emanate from the interrelations of the social classes at a
given  moment,  or  from  the  more  or  less  accidental  level  of  relations  of  production  and
means  of  communication,  but  from  his  more  or  less  penetrating  insight  into  the  general
result of the social and political movement. Thus he necessarily finds himself in a dilemma.
What he can do is in contrast to all his actions as hitherto practised, to all his principles and
The Peasant War in Germany
– 78 –

to the present interests of his party; what he ought to do cannot be achieved. In a word, he
is compelled to represent not his party or his class, but the class for whom conditions are
ripe for domination. In the interests of the movement itself, he is compelled to defend the
interests  of  an  alien  class,  and  to  feed  his  own  class  with  phrases  and  promises,  with  the
assertion that the interests of that alien class are their own interests. Whoever puts himself
in this awkward position is irrevocably lost. We have seen examples of this in recent times.
We need only be reminded of the position taken in the last French provisional government
by the representatives of the proletariat, though they represented only a very low level of
proletarian development. Whoever can still look forward to official positions after having
become  familiar  with  the  experiences  of  the  February  government  –  not  to  speak  of  our
own  noble  German  provisional  governments  and  imperial  regencies  –  is  either  foolish
beyond measure, or at best pays only lip service to the extreme revolutionary party.
Muenzer’s  position  at  the  head  of  the  “eternal  council”  of  Muehlhausen  was  indeed
much  more  precarious  than  that  of  any  modern  revolutionary  regent.  Not  only  the
movement of his time, but the whole century, was not ripe for the realisation of the ideas
for which he himself had only begun to grope. The class which he represented not only was
not  developed  enough  and  incapable  of  subduing  and  transforming  the  whole  of  society,
but it was just beginning to come into existence. The social transformation that he pictured
in his fantasy was so little grounded in the then existing economic conditions that the latter
were  a  preparation  for  a  social  system  diametrically  opposed  to  that  of  which  he  dreamt.
Nevertheless,  he  was  bound  to  his  preachings  of  Christian  equality  and  evangelical
community  of  possessions.  He  was  at  least  compelled  to  make  an  attempt  at  their
realisation.  Community  of  all  possessions,  universal  and  equal  labour  duty,  and  the
abolition of all authority were proclaimed. In reality, Muehlhausen remained a republican
imperial city with a somewhat democratic constitution, with a senate elected by universal
suffrage and under the control of a forum, and with the hastily improvised feeding of the
poor. The social change, which so horrified the Protestant middle-class contemporaries, in
reality  never  went  beyond  a  feeble  and  unconscious  attempt  prematurely  to  establish  the
bourgeois society of a later period.
Muenzer,  himself,  seems  to  have  realised  the  wide  abyss  between  his  theories  and
surrounding  realities.  This  abyss  must  have  been  felt  the  more  keenly,  the  more  distorted
the  views  of  this  genius  of  necessity  appeared,  reflected  in  the  heads  of  the  mass  of  his
followers. He threw himself into widening and organising the movement with a zeal rare
even  for  him.  He  wrote  letters  and  sent  out  emissaries  in  all  directions.  His  letters  and
sermons  breathed  a  revolutionary  fanaticism  which  was  amazing  in  comparison  with  his
former  writings.  Gone  completely  was  the  naive  youthful  humour  of  Muenzer’s
The Peasant War in Germany
– 79 –

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