1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 19
The meeting room was on the second floor, where most of the smaller meeting rooms were located, as well as the offices of the city’s CoC. The big assembly hall was on the first floor, along with the offices of various organizations affiliated to the CoC. Those included the city’s trade unions as well as the regional and national trade union federations; the sanitation commission; credit unions; life and health insurance co-operatives; the retirement insurance association. The smallest office held the just-launched employment-insurance co-operative.
The building’s basement, just as was true of the city’s official Rathaus, was given over to a huge tavern. And, just as with the one in the basement of the Rathaus on Hans Richter Strasse — or the now famous Thuringian Gardens in Grantville — that tavern was a social and political center.
German traditions of self-organization were already deeply-rooted. The up-time Americans, smugly certain as Americans so often were that their own customs were unique, had been surprised to discover the ubiquitous town and city militias with their accompanying shooting clubs. They’d thought the tradition of armed self-defense — not to mention the National Rifle Association — to be quintessentially American.
The up-timers could claim considerable credit for inspiring some of the rapidly-growing voluntary associations, true enough, especially the trade unions and the credit unions. Others seemed to them somewhat outlandish. Americans were certainly familiar with sports clubs, but they were quite unaccustomed to seeing such clubs — as with most of the insurance co-operatives — so closely associated with a political movement. But they would have been perfectly familiar to the German Social Democrats of the nineteenth century who had surrounded their powerful political party with such organizations.
Gretchen herself took the situation for granted, including the informal give-and-take between the CoC headquarters and the Rathaus. At any given time of the day or night, you were just as likely to find a city sanitation official discussing his business with CoC activists in their tavern as you were to find CoC activists in the tavern at the Rathaus wrangling over issues involving the city militias with one of the mayor’s deputies.
She’d experienced that sort of informal dual power before, during the siege of Amsterdam. There, too, the CoC she’d organized had been as much the center of authority as the city’s official government. And the reasons had been much the same: military weakness on the part of the official authorities combined with very real if often informal military strength on the part of the radical plebeians.
When Gretchen entered the meeting room and saw the uncertain and dubious expression on the face of the woman from the Vogtland, it was obvious to her that the Vogtlander did not know what to make of it all. Gretchen was not surprised. The Vogtland, because of its terrain and being part of Saxony, had been isolated from the political developments which had transformed most of the Germanies since the Ring of Fire. The region had shared in those developments, true. In some ways, in fact, the political struggle was even sharper than most places, especially since the Saxon Elector had placed Holk in charge of pacifying the region. But the Vogtlander rebels were programmatically limited — “down with the Elector!” pretty much summed it up — and were tactically one-sided.
Gretchen took her seat across the table from the Vogtland woman, whose name was Anna Piesel. She was apparently betrothed to Georg Kresse, the recognized leader of the Vogtland rebellion. Tata sat down beside her.
Gretchen had to be careful here. The Committees of Correspondence were the largest and best-known — certainly the best-financed and organized — of Europe’s revolutionary organizations. But they were not the only one. In Franconia, for instance, the dominant organization was the Ram movement.
The CoCs were the only revolutionary organization with a national scope, even an international one. So it was inevitable that they would overshadow the other groups, all of whom were regional in character. In times past, over-bearing attitudes by CoC activists ignoring local conditions had produced some bad clashes. Gretchen had had to intervene personally in one such conflict, in Suhl, when the local CoC tried to run roughshod over the gun manufacturers who, whatever their political faults, still commanded the loyalty and confidence of the city’s population.
The situation in the Vogtland posed a similar danger. There was no question that Kresse’s movement had the support and allegiance of most people in the region who were opposed to the Elector’s rule. Unfortunately, from what Gretchen and the other national CoC leaders could determine, Kresse had a tendency to see political problems through a military lens. That was perhaps inevitable, given the origins of the movement and the conditions in southwestern Saxony. But while that sort of almost-exclusively military approach might work well enough in the mountains of the Vogtland, it was an insufficient basis for establishing a new political regime in the region as a whole.
Saxony was not the Vogtland. Dresden and Leipzig were major cities, cultural as well as population centers. The university at Leipzig, in fact, was the second-oldest in the Germanies. It had been founded in 1409 and was still very prominent, especially in law.
There was simply no way that a movement based in the Vogtland, and one whose approach was almost entirely military, was going to provide the basis for replacing the rule of the Elector with a Saxon republic. On their own, Kresse and his people didn’t even have the military strength to overthrow John George. They certainly didn’t have the political experience and acumen to handle the situation that would be produced in Saxony if — as Gretchen and all the CoC leaders assumed was going to happen — Gustav Adolf crushed the Saxon army in the coming war.
What then? The same guerrilla tactics that worked well enough against a general like Holk would not work against the sort of military administration the Swedes would set up in Saxony. Gustav Adolf did not rule like John George — and, perhaps more directly to the point, would not try to suppress the Vogtland using the methods of Heinrich Holk. Dealing with him was like dealing with Fredrik Hendrik, the Prince of Orange in the Low Countries — or the new Spanish king, for that matter. Such men were not brutes, and they were willing to make accommodations when necessary. Sometimes they were even allies.
On the other hand…
There would be no way to move forward in Saxony in direct opposition to Kresse and his people, either. Nor would it be correct to do so. Whatever their flaws and limitations, their unyielding struggle against dynasticism and aristocratic rule deserved support and respect.
Anna Piesel had been scrutinizing her since Gretchen entered the room. She’d barely glanced at Tata. Now she spoke abruptly.
“So, what’s your answer? Will you come to Dresden?”
As they’d pre-arranged, Spartacus answered that question.
“She can’t, Anna. From everything we’ve been able to determine, Wilhelm Wettin is planning to force a drastic reactionary program onto the USE. When that happens, there’ll be an explosion — and it’ll be centered here in Magdeburg. There’s simply no way we could allow such a central leader as Gretchen to leave the capital right now.”
Piesel got a pinched look on her face, her eyes narrow. Now Gretchen spoke, gesturing with her hand toward Tata.
“But here’s what we can do. We’ll send a team of organizers into Dresden with Tata here in charge.”
Piesel shifted her narrow gaze to Tata. “And who’s she?”
Tata looked uncomfortable. Spartacus’s eyes widened and his lips tightened, as if distressed that anyone could be so ignorant but too polite to say so.
Gunther Achterhof just chuckled. “We figure if she can persuade a duke to turn over an entire duchy, she can handle the aftermath of the Elector’s defeat well enough.”
Piesel’s eyes got wide also. Obviously, although the name hadn’t registered, she’d heard the story.
“Oh,” she said, after a couple of seconds. Then she gave Tata a shy smile. “Well. I guess that would be okay.”
After Piesel left, Tata turned to Gretchen. “This is crazy. I don’t have enough experience. And that story’s silly and you know it.”
Achterhof waved his hand. “Stop worrying, girl. We really are sending a team of good organizers, headed by Joachim Kappel. You’ll do fine. Just listen to Joachim.”
“Why don’t you put him in charge, then?”
“Nobody except us has ever heard of him,” said Spartacus. “You’re famous.”
“It’s a silly story,” she insisted.
Gunther shrugged. “Most stories are. But people still like to listen to them.”