1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 18

1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 18

Once they left the building, a contingent of CoC activists closed in around them. Others stayed in place, guarding the building.

Looked at from one angle, the level of protection being provided to Gretchen was excessive. Here in the heart of Magdeburg’s working class district, no large group of enemies would dare to move in force. Not unless an army had already taken the city, in which case a relative handful of security guards would be a moot point.

But conflict had a psychological as well as a physical component, which Gretchen had come to respect as the struggle continued. Spartacus understood that also, and Gunther Achterhof practically worshipped at the shrine of what he liked to call “psyops.” He was addicted to such Americanisms.

Partly, Gretchen had come to that understanding on her own. Mostly, though, she’d come to it from years of watching Mike Stearns.

Gretchen had suspicions concerning Stearns. His willingness to compromise with the enemy readily and easily was something that rubbed her the wrong way, and always had. At the same time, as the years had passed since the Ring of Fire and her rise to prominence as a leader of Europe’s principal revolutionary organization, she’d become a great deal more sophisticated. The girl whose aspirations toward striking back had once been limited to sliding a knife into the brain of a mercenary thug was now a young woman who’d commanded the defending forces of a major city under siege and had negotiated with two princes — one of them a king now — and an arch-duchess.

One of the things she’d learned from Stearns was that aggressive negotiating — understanding that “negotiating” was a concept much broader than the formalities involved — could often preclude the need for violence altogether. Or, at the very least, reduce the scope of that violence.

So, when she walked in public, Gretchen’s stride was sure and confident. So, too, were the strides of the men guarding her. So, at such times, Gretchen’s expression was equally sure and confident. And the expressions of the armed men at her side were downright belligerent.

Who could say? Perhaps when his spies reported, an enemy would be moved to negotiate rather than fight. And perhaps, even if he did choose to fight, he would enter the conflict with his self-confidence already frayed.

What still bothered her about Stearns was that she was not sure when negotiation stopped being a means for the man and became an end in itself. There was an insidious dynamic at work. A ruling class had several ways to maintain its domination. One, of course, was brute force. But another was co-option, absorption, seduction. Offer a rebel — usually a man from the lower classes — a prominent place in society. Offer him status; titles; positions — and, of course, a munificent salary. All the things, in short, which he’d never had and whose absence had been, at least in part, the motive for his rebellion.

How long does such a man remain a revolutionary? In his core, not simply in the trappings and appurtenances?

To be sure, most of Europe’s dynasts and noblemen still shook their fists at Mike Stearns and reviled him publicly and privately. But how much did they really fear him, any longer? How much, in their heart of hearts, did they really worry that a man who’d borne the title of a prime minister, bore now the title of a major general, and could easily obtain a loan to buy a mansion for his family, was still their mortal enemy?

The Swedes did not, obviously. The Swedish king Gustav Adolf’s relationship with Stearns might be ambivalent, and the Swedish chancellor Oxenstierna might often be downright prickly. So what? They were still willing to let him wield a great deal of power and influence, and never failed to treat him with respect.

So how long would he last? Gretchen simply didn’t know. Neither did Spartacus or Gunther Achterhof or any of the central leaders of the Committees of Correspondence. To the lower classes of the Germanies, including those of them who adhered to the CoCs, Mike Stearns was “the prince of Germany.” The leadership of the CoCs did not demur publicly. But, more and more, they were beginning to wonder. Might the day come when they would be calling him “the traitor of Germany?”

But Gretchen let none of those inner worries show on her face, as she moved through the crowded streets of Magdeburg.

“Stop looking nervous,” she said quietly to Tata, walking at her side.

The girl grimaced. “I’ve never seen so many people. And it’s so crowded.”

Actually, it wasn’t very crowded — for her and Gretchen. As packed with people as the streets were, on such a fine midsummer day, they gave way for Gretchen and her entourage. Willingly, too, not because they were worried the guards might get rough. Still, even for a girl from a small city like Mainz, Magdeburg would be startling. No city in the Germanies was growing as rapidly as Magdeburg. Its population was already equal to London’s and would soon surpass Paris.

“It doesn’t matter what the reason is,” said Gretchen. “Never look nervous. Our enemies might be watching.”

****

Spartacus and Achterhof were waiting for her in one of the back rooms of the city’s central Freedom Arches. This building had served for almost a year as the more-or-less official headquarters for the Committees of Correspondence — everywhere, not simply in Magdeburg. It would no doubt retain that position, even though Gretchen’s new apartment building would sometimes double as an informal headquarters.

The building was located next door to Magdeburg’s original Freedom Arches, which was still in operation and which still resembled a tavern. The new Freedom Arches, on the other hand…

****

The first time Melissa Mailey laid eyes on the thing, she’d rolled her eyes. “Oh, swell. It’s a cross between the Bastille, the Pentagon, Chateau d’If and the Lubyanka . Who was the architect? Frank Lloyd Rack? Mies van der Thumbscrews?”

When informed that the architect had actually been a city employee and one of mayor’s top assistants, she’d been a little dumbfounded. Why would such a proper gentleman as Otto von Guericke lend his assistance to such a project?

She’d asked Guericke herself, three days later, at one of the soirees hosted by Mary Simpson.

“You see the CoCs as a force for revolution, Melissa. Which you mostly support, albeit with some reservations. But I am in charge of a city — the largest, fastest growing and most commercially and industrially dynamic city in the Germanies. In some respects, in the entire world. And from my standpoint, the Magdeburg Committee of Correspondence is a tremendously stabilizing force. I hate to think what the situation with disease and crime would be, were it not for the CoC patrols. Not to mention — I am first and foremost a scientist, don’t forget — that they have an almost mystical faith in science and invariably support any initiative the city undertakes for scientific education and progress.”

She must have had a surprised look on her face. Guericke had shaken his head. “Melissa, I am often at political loggerheads with the Committees of Correspondence. By and large, however, I think they are a force for good. And regardless of anything else — whatever may be the delusions of the Crown Loyalist party — they cannot be ignored or shuffled aside. That being so, I think it is entirely in my interest to give them institutional validity. Yes, I know that from a purely architectural standpoint that new headquarters of theirs is something of a blocky monstrosity. But it helps them feel secure, and I find a secure CoC quite a bit easier to negotiate with than one which is edgy and apprehensive.”

He’d gotten a wry smile. “However politically radical you Americans may be in some respects, Melissa, you enjoyed a sheltered life as a people. There was nothing in your history equivalent to the aftermath of the Peasant War, when the aristocracy butchered a hundred thousand farmers after their rebellion was defeated. That was only a century ago. Many of those people sitting right now in the CoC headquarters on October 7th Avenue are the direct descendants of those slaughtered folk. If you were to inquire among the members of the Ram Rebellion — some of whose representatives you can now also find in that same building — the number would be even higher. It would not take much of a provocation for the CoC in Magdeburg to launch a violent uprising. That uprising would succeed rapidly here in the city, be sure of it. Whether it would spread across the USE or be crushed is harder to gauge because there are so many variables involved. But either way, it would be a bloody business. I’d just as soon avoid it, if we can.”

He hadn’t sounded very optimistic.

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21 Responses to 1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 18

  1. eqdoktor says:

    So what we have here appears to be 1632 version the old time line 1917 Russian Revolution just before WWI. Gretchen = Trotsky, Mike Stearn = Lenin; and off somewhere in the Germanies – Stalin is lurking (Spartacus don’t fill the bill yet).

    This is intriguing.

  2. Damon says:

    Eric seems to be spending some time developing the possibility some dynamic tension between the various internal forces in the USE. The Crown Loyalists are in power and likely to do something terminally stupid to piss off the CofCs, the CofCs wonder if Mike and the other Americans are being co-opted by being part of the power structure and losing their desire to continue the social revolution they started, Gustav Adolph is suspected of being a military adventurer a la Napoleon, and the social movements spawned by reading up-time history are about to explode all over the map of Europe. Yippee!
    Oh, and Becky and Gretchen are living in the same City again, and multiple mamas into the bargain. I look forward to their meeting.

  3. robert says:

    @2 “Oh, and Becky and Gretchen are living in the same City again, and multiple mamas into the bargain. I look forward to their meeting.”
    They are well acquainted with one another, having had adventures in France and Amsterdam. Action Girl and Policy Wonk, cooking things up in Magdeburg. Until Gretchen goes off to Saxony.

  4. DougL says:

    Our Heroes are too strong for there to be any great crisis without internal tension, especially if the Poles & Austrians mostly stay out of the current war. The Poles will likely put up one hell of a fight on their own ground if GA gets that far. But who cares? It probably doesn’t matter in the long run who wins that one which is why Mike thinks fighting it is stupid and I wouldn’t consider a book focusing mainly on the military action in that war all that interesting (And I LIKE military based stories, but GA can’t hold Poland, so invading it is stupid and pointless. A story about that invasion would only be really interesting if told from the Poles’ POV). Stories are about conflict and shit going wrong, most of the interesting potential conflicts are internal, so internal tension is likely.

    Mike doesn’t like Gustav’s plans and suspects him of imperial overreach and/or victory disease. He’d like to avoid invading Poland altogether if he can, especially if he can find a way to avoid it AND also at the same time kill the second serfdom in Poland. Which pits him against GA.

    Gretchen suspects Mike of selling out. And Mike’s not there. Gretchen may go to Saxony. But whereever she is she’s not an automatic firm ally of Mike. Note that there’s no evidence that Mike WANTS a full up social revolution, which is Gretchen’s goal. Except for what’s needed to kill slavery and serfdom Mike wants slow evolutionary change inside a mostly stable and republican social structure.

    Wettin probably considers Gretchen and her friends to be gangsters and/or traitors. Plenty of their actions seem to support such a characterization. And he’s in charge of the civil government!

    Everyone else expects Wettin to screw up, and Mike at least is getting out of the way partly to hand him more rope.

    I expect internal problems between Our Heroes.

  5. robert says:

    @4 Good thoughts. But first there is going to be something happening when Christina, her fiance, and friends head out for Stockholm. Mischief at sea, is what I bet on.

  6. Ah sir says:

    Gustav can’t conquer Poland unless he’s willing to destroy the ‘republic’. I’m not sure he is, although killing off everyone who sits in the Polish diet sounds like a good idea to me. Still, wiping out all those nobles would probably be a problem in Germany, Denmark and Sweden. Them nobles stick together. On the other hand, Wallenstein is also interested in Poland. He may well be willing. His general, Roth, might even be enthusiastic.

  7. Mike says:

    In regards to trouble for Kristina et all, it might not be so much en route to Stockholm as in Stockholm itself. One of Hugenot conspirators from Dreeson incident was dispatched to Stockholm and he was never caught. He had a POV scene where he commented he would likely have opportunity to take out Kristina’s mother (wife of GA). Just think how her death during a war with Brandenburg might pose complications.

    @4 – regarding overreaching on behalf of GA, the real question isn’t whether or not he tries (let alone succeeds) in conquering Poland. The big one for overreaching is whether Sweden retains control of the Eastern baltic seabord. Sweden in OTL loses control during the wars in early 1700s. Sweden lost that whole stretch (and eventually Finland) due to overreaching beyond its resources.

  8. Mike says:

    @ 2 & 4 regarding internal dissension over how far to carry the revolution: DougL hit the nail on the head, Stearn’s goal is to eradicate Slavery and Serfdom. He seems pretty willing to compromise on all else. Gretchen wants a much deeper revolution. The question for the series is whether Mike’s goal of a very broad revolution encompassing Europe, Africa and the Americas is to some extent only possible by making multiple compromises with a slew of countries and powers-that-be. That’s going to keep frustrating Gretchen and the CoCs.

    That brings up another question. While “nationalism” is still yet to develop, if Stearn’s anti-slavery and anti-serfdom policies take root into the current generation of military conflicts, won’t this lead to a rise in USE imperialism in 15-20 years? Maybe not territorially but especially in the Atlantic and Caribbean? The naval technoligical supremacy has been addressed before. While Stearns and Admiral Simpson may not be in for those things, they won’t be the only decision makers by that point.

  9. What about the Committees of Correspondence themselves. Wouldn’t their actions to radicalize the Polish peasantry lead to solidifying GA’s control of Poland in the face of Polish nobility opposition?

    Just remember that after the Haitian quake there were petitions presented to the US military asking us to stay when we announced we had to leave because our work was done.

    Not all occupations lead to opposition, especially when the occupation leads to a better life for the occupied.

  10. ronzo says:

    Mike, seems to be getting away from his original analogy of “running ones self out a stumble instead of falling into broken glass” But then again Mike has become extremely savy, and did pretty much constructed the opposition that he wanted. I think he sees the writing on the wall and knows where its all heading and he’s been playing moderate so that when it all comes to a head he can negotiate better terms once again like he did at the end of the 1633. By Removing slavery and serfdom he just increases the basic chance that the rest of the social reforms will happen eventually anyways and it never hurts any leader in any time to have a war record. I think he and Gretchen are more closely aligned then Gretchen thinks.

  11. arthur says:

    mike stearns 90’s WV boy by way of CA who returned to WV for family not practicing. very close if not more extreme then gretchen. mike is the carrot gretcen the stick. when the “loyalist” do there stuuuuuuuuppppiiiiiidddddd thing he will step and negotiate terms GA would never accept. except that the stick has a COC army with guns.

  12. arthur says:

    just like at the endof dreeson incident. he unleashed crystal night. a carrot using a stick. go prince of germany

  13. robert says:

    @10 Exactly. When the basics are in place, like democracy, no slaves or serfs, equal rights, then the real reforms will come, sooner than later, AS LONG AS THERE IS ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL STABILITY to nurture the changes (1930s Germany, Italy and several E. European nations).

  14. ronzo says:

    @12 Thats right, Mike wants to do things as peacefully as possible to avoid resentment growing between the two sides. But When given a opportunity to get what he wants, he has shown he is capable of letting the COC of the leash. I think that GA, and the rest of the nobles are probably more teriffied of mike because Crystal night. I think it may be a political miscalculation or GA’s part to send Mike along in command with the COC regiments of USE army, as its only going reinforce his status with them. WHEN the Wettin government screws up the COC regiments will of course follow Mikes lead,as will the airforce, and the navy that make him quite difficult to ignore when it comes to negotiating terms. I wonder how his relationship stands with the Danish King? He might be able get them on board seeing how much he disliked having a reestablished union of Kalamar rammed down his throat, but then again they are nobility.

  15. Ed Schoenfeld says:

    The pivot is Gustav Adolf — remember his (general) opinion of German nobles, and where the Vasa family gets its political support (at root, the Swedish peasantry). If the mess up by the Crown Loyalists involves not supporting GA in something he finds essential, Stearns will be able to score big by ‘supporting the Emperor’ in a time of need. The CoC’s may be dubious — until Stearns takes his payoff by clearing out a lot of the social hierarchy garbage and achieving 1 adult = 1 vote (remember in 1634BW Stearns saying something like “The franchise is the only issue of any importance.”) Then the CoC will roll, the so-called Crown Loyalists will be a repidly declining fragment with very little political power, and Gustav Adolf will be leading a very different Empire than the one he expected.

  16. robert says:

    Um. You think that Gustavus Adolphus will be happy being a constitutional monarch? Mike has already said that GA is no different from any other monarch in his greed for more territory. And I think that Mike is perfectly OK with that, as his plans for a USE are exactly in line with that. If he can get there before nationalism starts rearing its sometimes ugly head then he will be happy and just as happy to use GA’s greed to further that goal.

  17. Ed says:

    Who said anything about GA being happy? Or even the sort of powerless figurehead we think of as a ‘Constitutional Monarch’ these days?

    Monarchs’ power was *always* limited by something, if only logistics (hard for one guy to run a totalitarian regime). Most of the realms in 16-17C had some sort of ‘Estates General,’ Parliament, or other power center that included people outside the ruler and nobles. It was even pretty common to have the ‘people’ (or at least what passed for a middle class) supporting the monarch against the nobility and their ‘traditional privileges.’

    But the key is who gets to be in the estates, or whatever they are called — If Mike gets universal suffrage, with GA knowing he can count on the “people” to support the dynasty, the traditional nobility and their privileges are toast. You see people like Hesse-Kassel and Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt siding with the ‘progressives’ already. Heck, Eric is even setting up the possibility that the ‘nobility’ or ‘House of Lords’ can be selected by merit (the ‘Imperial Count’ thing with guys like Thorsten and Eddie).

    So GA might have a lot of real power in any final arrangement — think like an 1800’s era US president with a life term, like Hamilton wanted. Stearns will get universal franchise, and the CoCs become a the core of a political party on the progressive wing of the ‘new establishment.’ Any territorial expansion by GA will bring the anti-serf/anti-slave influences with it, so I agree that will ultimately be fine with the CoCs. Eventually the Germanies will get tired of supporting GAs foreign adventures and maybe even the expense of supporting a monarchy, but not for a while; it might not even become an issue until after Kristina’s reign (i.e. not in this series).

  18. laclongquan says:

    It’s a stormy times ahead for USE, I think. This overreaching ambitious move of Gustave Adolf sound too much like Napoleon’s. The man is genius on battlefield and not so bad in politic but he let ambitions blind. The war with Poland and Russia might as well be a major unstablizing factor that draw in the Ottoman.

    On another factor, you think Gustave the pivot? Hah. The man is too bothered with European theatre of war to pay attention to New Worlds. French colonies expand much in the aftermath of the opening phase of League of Ostend war, with no strong opposition. Richelieu’s master strategy concerning America still work for years to come.

  19. Ed Schoenfeld says:

    The new world events will be central in a different story. For 1635 Eastern Front, and the political development of the USE during the Wettin Administration, Gustav Adolf will be the pivot. Everybody else will maneuver to take advantage what GA does: Stearns and 4th of July party, CoCs and revolutionary movements, Prince Ulrik and Princess Kristina in Stockholm, progressive nobles like Hesse-Kassell in Germany and (reluctantly) Oxenstierna in Sweden, the traditional nobles and Wettin. I think Stearns and Gretchen will play the game a little better than everybody else and get unuiversal franchise for the Germanies out of it. And then maybe GA will learn a little too much ambition can be dangerous . . .

    You have an interesting comment about the Ottomans. But they would ‘come in’ against Austria or even Russia. Will that mean Austria and Russia have to abandon Saxony to GA? Can Eric be setting up the Romanov and Hapsburg dynasties (Austria and Netherlands at least) as being on the ‘progressive’ wing? What a hoot that would be!

  20. Nico de Lange says:

    Robert, could you clarify your comment about 1930s Germany (#13)? I always understood that the extreme instability of the political and economic system was the reason for the rise of Nazism at the time?

    Another thing, I disagree about the ‘real reforms’ following upon the introduction of equal rights, democracy etc. as you imply in the same post. Those ARE the real reforms that made modern Western societies the economic and political leaders of the world, because the concept of equal rights (i.e. freedom of opportunity, equality before the law, social responsibility etc.) and popular participation in the political process (i.e. democracy) are what gave the productive classes a stake in society. The decline of Western power and influence in the last decade or so was caused entirely by the elite classes’ efforts to monopolize wealth and power, as best exemplified by the US Republican Party, because those efforts caused severe socio-economic instability and insecurity among the productive classes in Western societies.

  21. Nico de Lange says:

    Btw, I agree with Ed’s #17, for the most part. I don’t think GA will be at all, at all bothered with sharing power with the commoners in the Germanies, or even in the Union of Kalmar, because as our own timeline’s history has shown time and again, the monarchs and commoners of Europe have more often than not made common cause against the powerful nobilities throughout the post-Medieval centuries – mostly, because astute monarchs have realized that their power, wealth and influence are threatened by a strong, landed aristocracy, which can use their own bases of military and economic resources to limit the king’s (or queen’s) authority. As for the lower classes, I think the 30 Years’ War gave ample evidence of why such a strong, landed aristocracy will ALWAYS be the greatest enemy of commoner well-being. Besides, the way that Mr Flint is developing GA in his fictional timeline implies that GA is well-aware of the fact that a secure and FREE commoner, safe from noble predation, is a far more productive commoner – and that security and freedom is best assured by the commoner’s participation in the political process.

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