August Bebel

Reminiscences


My Entry into the Labor Movement and into Public Life

The transfer of the regency of Prussia to the hands of Prince William of Prussia, the brother of King Frederick William IV, and the Italian war had stirred up the people mightily. The pressure of the years of reaction, which had weighed upon the people since 1849, had ceased. It was especially the liberal bourgeoisie that began to stir politically, after prolonged reaction had promoted their economic development powerfully, and made this class much richer. And yet the development of the bourgeoisie at that time cannot be compared with the evolution of this class in industrial matters since 1871, and more especially since the nineties of the 19th century.

The bourgeoisie now demands its share in the administration of state affairs. Not only did this class desire to rule parliament in Prussia, but it also, in its large majority, aimed at a unification of Germany under the leadership of Prussia, in order to make of Germany a uniform state administered according to systematic political and economic principles, an aim which the revolution of 1848 and 1849 had vainly tried to accomplish, as had also the parliament of those years. This aim was expressed by the foundation of the National Club of Germany in 1859, of which Rudolph von Bennigsen became president. The appointment of the old liberal ministry of Auerswald-Schwerin, by the prince regent, swelled the hopes of the liberals. The published program of the prince regent would not have justified any great hopes, and his past record, particularly his role during the revolutionary years, should have been a warning. But the liberal bourgeoisie saw a new era dawning.

Liberalism is always hopeful, so long as the semblance of a liberal government is in sight, no matter how many disappointments have befallen in the course of decades. Because liberalism itself lacks the courage and the energy for strong deeds and because it dreads every real movement of the people, it always rests its hopes in the rulers, who seemingly or actually make small concessions to it. By means of the enthusiasm and the blind confidence which it shows for such personalities, it hopes to make them subservient to its ends. In the present case, the buds of promise were soon nipped. The prince regent, a thoro-going soldier, felt, first of all, the need of a far-reaching military reform at the expense of the prevailing “landwehr” (second reserve) institutions. According to his view, the prevailing military organization of Prussia had not stood the test during and after the revolution, nor in the mobilization of the year 1859. The realization of his plans, however, not only cost much more money than had been spent so far, but also went counter to the traditions which the people had held since 1813 concerning the ability of the landwehr. Moreover, the plan of reorganization demanded the extension of the time of military service from two years to three, and for the reserves from two years to four.

It is true that the landwehr had failed the rulers here and there during the year of the revolution. Its members had felt that they belonged to the people, and had not permitted themselves to be used without ceremony for reactionary measures, nor for a war that was not popular. That was the reason that induced the prince regent to push it to the background, so far as possible, in the new plan of reorganization. But when this reorganization was definitely undertaken, without the consent of parliament, that had shortsightedly granted, in a tentative way, the funds for this purpose, the liberals, who had the majority in the second House, began to raise objections. But the prince regent did not pay any attention to them, and continued his reorganization. This led to a conflict. The elections, in December, 1861, strengthened the opposition. Altho the government tried to coax the house by making liberal concessions (a law concerning the responsibility of ministers and a new constitution of provincial districts), parliament declined the demanded appropriations for the reorganization of the army. Then the parliament was dissolved in March, 1862, but the result was that the elections in May of the same year returned a still more radical body of representatives. The conservatives had dwindled down to eleven men.

The conflict became more and more acute, and the king, who was helpless, called upon Bismarck, who was Prussian ambassador at the federal parliament of Frankfort-on-Main. In September, 1862, Bismarck became the head of the ministry, which had meanwhile assumed a conservative character. This was the same Bismarck whom Frederick William IV., in 1849, had called a red reactionary smelling of blood. This brought the conflict between the government and the parliament to a climax.

In the matter of the German question, the movement had meanwhile also become more and more active thruout Germany, and the waves of popular feeling ran high. The National Club demanded the calling of a German parliament, in accord with the national constitution and of the election law of 1849. At the same time, Prussia’s rival, Austria, was to be crowded out on account of its large numbers of non-German inhabitants. The majority of the National Club wanted to form a little Germany in opposition to those who wished to see Germany and Austria combined, and who for this reason called themselves the Greater Germans. These antagonisms dominated the struggles over the solution of the German question during the first half of the sixties of the nineteenth century. Along with this went the so-called trias-idea, according to which the smaller states demanded a representation in the future government of the empire, which was to be headed by three directors, one each for Germany, Austria and all the smaller states.

The dimensions assumed by this movement and the importance which it might have in the future induced the more far-sighted liberals to turn their eyes in due time to the working class and make attempts to win the workers. The events of the previous fifteen years in France, such as the rapid development of Socialist ideas, the June battle, the diplomatic coup of Louis Bonaparte and his demagogic exploitation of the working class against the liberal bourgeoisie, recommended to the liberals the advisability of forestalling such things in Germany. So they availed themselves, after 1860, of the desires of the laborers and founded laborers’ clubs, which they promoted and tried to dominate by the help of presumably reliable personalities whom they installed as leaders.

While the industrial development of Germany had made considerable headway at that time, nevertheless this country was still overwhelmingly a land of small business men and small farmers. Three-fourths of the industrial laborers were artisans. With the exception of work in the heavy industries such as mining, iron construction and machine building, factory labor was despised by the artisan journeymen. The products of factories were considered cheap as well as nasty, a stigma which the representative of Germany at the world’s exposition at Philadelphia, Privy Counselor Reuleaux, still impressed upon Germany factory labor sixteen years later. In the eyes of the artisan, the factory laborer was an inferior, and to be called a laborer instead of a journeyman or an apprentice was considered an insult by many. Moreover, the vast majority of the journeymen and apprentices still harbored the delusion that they would be masters some day, particularly when professional liberty was proclaimed in Saxony and other states in the beginning of the sixties. The political intelligence of these workers was low. In the fifties, during the period of blackest reaction in which all political life was dead, they had been raised and had not been given any opportunity to educate themselves politically. Workingmen’s clubs or artisans’ clubs were exceptions and served every other purpose but political enlightenment. Workingmen’s clubs of a political nature were not even tolerated in most German states, or were even prohibited by a decision of the federal parliament in 1856, for in the opinion of this parliament in Frankfort-on-Main a workingmen’s club was identical with the spreading of Socialism and communism. And to us of the younger generation, Socialism and communism were at that time utterly strange conceptions. It is true that here and there, for instance in Leipsic, a few individuals, like Fritzsche, Vahlteich, the tailor Schilling, existed, who had heard of Weitling’s communism, and had read his writings, but these men were exceptions. Never did I hear at that time of any laborer who knew anything of the “Communist Manifesto,” or of the activity of Marx and Engels during the years of the revolution in the Rhineland.

All this shows that the working class at that time occupied a position in which it had neither a class interest of its own, nor knew anything of the existence of a social question. For this reason the laborers flocked in droves to the clubs formed by the assistance of the liberal spokesmen, who appeared to the workingmen as the heralds of genuine friends of “Labor."

These workingmen’s clubs sprouted in the early sixties like mushrooms after a warm summer rain. This was true particularly of Saxony, but it took place also in other parts of Germany. Such clubs arose in localities, and it required many years before the Socialist movement found a favorable soil there, altho by that time the old workingmen’s clubs had disappeared.

In Leipsic, political life was wide-awake, for the city was regarded as one of the principal seats of liberalism and democracy. One day I read an invitation to attend a popular meeting for the purpose of founding an educational club. The notice appeared in the democratic “Middle German People’s Paper,” of which I was a subscriber, and which was edited by Dr. Peters, a participant in the revolution of 1848, the husband of the late well-known champion of women’s rights, Louise Otto-Peters. This meeting took place on February 19, 1861, in Vienna Hall, a resort located near Rose Valley, in a garden. When I entered the hall, it was already overcrowded. With much difficulty I found a place in the gallery. It was the first public meeting which I attended. The president of the Polytechnic Society, Professor Dr. Hirzel was the speaker. He made the announcement that a club for technical education was to be founded as a second department of the Polytechnic Society, because workingmen’s clubs were forbidden in Saxony by the federal decision of 1856. This started the opposition. Together with Professor Rossmaessler, who had been a member of the parliament in Frankfort-on-Main and had been ousted from his position at the Academy of Forestry in Tharand by Mr. von Buest, other speakers took the floor, especially Vahlteich and Fritzsche, and demanded full independence for this club, which should be a political one. The cultivation of lines of instruction, they said, was the business of the school, not of a club for grown people. I was not in agreement with these speakers, but I admired the keen way in which these laborers took issue with the learned gentlemen, and I secretly wished that I might also be able to speak like that.

The club was founded, and the opposition joined it, altho they had not accomplished their purpose. I likewise became a member that evening. This club became, in its way, a sort of model institution. Lecturers for scientific subjects were available in plenty. Among them were the Professors Rosstmaessler, Boch - the editor of “Gartenlaube” and author of the “Book of Man in Health and Disease” — Wuttke, Wenck, Marbach, Dr. Lindner, Dr. Reyher, Dr. Burckhardt and others. These were followed later by Professor Biedermann, Dr. Hans Blum, of whom it was said that in his student’s years he carried a visiting card with the inscription, “Student of the Rights of Man,” Dr. Eras, Liebknecht, who came to Leipsic in the summer of 1865, and Robert Schweichel. One of the most diligent lecturers during the first year was Dr. Dammer, who later on became the first vice president of the General Association of Workingmen appointed by Lassalle. Lessons were given in English, French, in stenography, in commercial bookkeeping, in the German language and in arithmetic. A turning and singing section were also founded. Vahlteich, who was a great turner, joined the former, and Fritzsche and myself joined the singing section. Fritzsche sang an excellent second bass, as every one does who has no singing voice.

At the head of the club stood a committee of twenty-four, and in this committee the fight over the presidency became fierce. Rossmaessler was beaten in the race by the architect, Mothes, but the opposition continued its work systematically. At the first anniversary of the club in February, 1862, Vahlteich made the address, which was decidedly political. He demanded universal suffrage. At the new election of the committee, I was likewise elected a member of it. My longing for public speaking was soon gratified in the frequent debates of the club. A friend of mine told me later that when I, for the first time, spoke a few minutes in justifying a motion, the members sitting at his table had looked at each other, and some one had asked: “Who is this man that bears himself like that?” Since various departments had been formed for the different lines of administration, I was chosen for the library and the entertainment department. I became the chairman of both of them. The election of the president of the club, which the committee had to undertake, called forth a violent struggle at this time. Four times the ballots were cast without resulting in a plurality for any candidate. The votes were always equally distributed. At last Professor Rossmaessler was beaten once more by one vote in favor of the architect, Mothes, who had voted for himself. Now the opposition carried the struggle to the general assembly, which met on Good Friday, 1862. The club then had more than 500 members. The opposition once more advanced its old demand that the club should be made a purely political one, and that school instruction should be excluded. After a violent debate of many hours, in which I took part also, the opposition was defeated by a majority of three-fourths of the votes. If the opposition had operated more adroitly, if they had demanded that political lectures on events of the day should be delivered from time to time and discussed, they would have won out easily. But that instruction should be banished from the club, which was of the greatest interest to the younger members of the club, called out their resistance. I, for instance, took a course in bookkeeping and stenography. A few days before that decisive meeting, Fritzsche and Vahlteich had been trying hard to bring me over to their side. I could not follow them.

The opposition now withdrew from the club, and founded the “Vorwaerts” club, which opened its headquarters in the Hotel de Saxe. The hotelkeeper was the former pastor, Wuerkert, who had been dismissed during the years of reaction. He had a peculiar method of spreading enlightenment and doing business at the same time. Every week he gave lectures, delivered by himself, on a wide variety of subjects, such as the birthdays and deathdays of famous men, political events, etc. On such days his establishment was crowded. It made a queer impression when Wuerkert, after moving among his guests and bringing beer to this one or that one, took his place on the landing of the stairs leading from the lower to the upper room, and gave his lecture from there, visible to every one. Not in opposition, but rather as a supplement to these meetings in the Hotel de Saxe, acted the restaurant of the “Good Spring” on the Bruehl. It was a large cellar, recently built and its owner was Grun, one of the men of ‘48. In one of the corners of the cellar stood a large table, called the criminals’ table. This signified that only the venerable heads of democracy were permitted to take a seat there, men who had been sentenced to the penitentiary or to prison, or who had been removed from their positions. Sometimes both things had gone together. There sat Rassmaessler, Dolge, who had been sentenced to death for taking part in the May revolt, then pardoned to penitentiary for life, and then had spent eight years in Waldheim. Among the “criminals” were also Dr. Albrecht, who taught stenography in our club; Dr. Burkhardt, Dr. Peters, Frederick Celkers, Dr. Fritz Hofmann, called Gartenlaube-Hofmann, etc. We young men considered it as a special honor to be permitted to drink a glass of beer at this table in the company of the old men.

The leaders of the Club “Vorwaerts” did not confine themselves to the mere club meetings, but carried the agitation into the meetings of the laborers and of the people in general. They called such public meetings from time to time and discussed labor and political questions in them. These discussions were very confused. Among the subjects discussed were the insurance of invalids, the opening of a world’s exposition in Germany, the question of joining the National Club, and demanding that this club should levy its dues of 3 marks per year, also in monthly instalments, in order that the working people might be able to join. Furthermore, a demand was discussed for universal suffrage in state elections, and for a German parliament that should take care of the laborers. The calling of a general congress of German workingmen was also discussed, for the purpose of debating the rising demands. This question of calling a general congress of German laborers appeared simultaneously also in the labor circles of Berlin and Nuremberg.

With a view to making preparations for this congress and calling other labor meetings as occasion might arise, a committee was elected to which I also belonged, together with Fritzsche, Vahlteich and other less known workers. Aside from labor meetings, which were arranged by our side, the local directors of the German National Club used to call public meetings, to which speakers were occasionally invited from outside, such as Schulze-Delitzsch, Metz-Darmstadt, etc. In these meetings such subjects as the German question, the foundation of a German navy, the ever more acute conflict over the constitution, the question of Slesvig-Holstein, etc., were discussed. It is evident from the enumeration of these subjects that the political life of Leipsic was very active at that time and kept us moving. A favorite subject in the meetings called by the liberals was the discussion of the constitutional conditions of the smaller states, especially of Saxony, Hesse-Cassel and Hesse-Darmstadt. In the second line followed Mecklenburg and Bavaria, Messieurs Von Beust, of Saxony, and Dalwigk, of Hesse-Darmstadt, were particular objects of sharp attacks. Mr. von Bismarck also became a target, when he stepped to the helm of the Prussian government in 1862.

It is true that, after the downfall of the revolution, all sorts of violations and enforcements of the constitution had occurred in the smaller states, but the same was true of Prussia. Moreover, these smaller states had been able to carry out their criminal acts only because they were protected by Prussia and Austria, which were heartily agreed on this point. Nevertheless, the liberals, in their public attacks, dealt far more harshly with the small and medium-sized states than with Prussia. But it had been precisely Prussia that crushed the revolution, and had not been sparing with deeds of violence against the revolutionists in additon to imposing a constitution by force of arms. I recall merely the condemnation of Gottfried Kinkel to penitentiary for life, the shooting of Adolph von Trützschler, in Mannheim, and of Max Dortue, in Freiburg in Breisgau, the shooting of prisoners in the wall-ditches of the casemates of Rastatt, the awful cruelties perpetrated by the Prussian soldiers against the captured revolutionists after the crushing of the revolution in Dresden during May. Altogether the conditions in Prussia during the fifties of the nineteenth century under Manteuffel’s system were such that any ordinarily independent man had to resent it and that Prussia was badly discredited in Germany and in foreign countries. The conflict over the constitution, once under way, was also without parallel in Germany. Altho I was young and inexperienced in politics, I could not help noticing this double standard of measurement. It was practiced especially by the liberals and democrats of Saxony. It is true that the system of Von Beust, as inaugurated with the consent of King John of Saxony, was particularly and justly hated, on account of its hostile measures against the people, and more especially for the cruel treatment given to the political prisoners in the penitentiary of Waldheim. No less than 286 May prisoners, 148 of them laborers, had been crowded into the Waldheim penitentiary, and by 1854 as many as 34, or 12 per cent, had died. The death sentence had been pronounced over 42 prisoners, but they had later been “pardoned” to penitentiary. These two friends of his had escaped. Roeckel had been sentenced to the penitentiary for life on account of up[?]. The country prison of Hubertusburg had entertained 70 political prisoners.

Among others, August Roeckel, a musical director of Dresden, a friend of Richard Wagner, and of the famous architect, Semper, was held in the Waldheim penitentiary. These two friends of his had escaped. Roeckel had been sentenced to the penitentiary for life on account of his participation in the May revolt. He was pardoned in the beginning of 1862, after having spent 11 years and a half in the penitentiary. With the lawyer, Kirbach, of Plauen, he was one of the last to be pardoned, because they had refused to beg for mercy. In 1865, he published a book, entitled “The Revolt in Saxony and the Penitentiary in Waldheim,” the contents of which raised a cry of horror in Saxony and Germany. I was one of the most persistent agents for Roeckel’ s book. I sold more than 300 copies — of course, without any personal profit to myself. This did not protect me, however, against the charge of the Coburg “Arbeiterzeitung,” that I was a follower of Beust.

Among those maltreated in Waldheim, one of the worst sufferers had been Kirbach, with whom I became personally acquainted twenty years later as his colleague to the Saxonian parliament. He was not one of those who curried favor in the penitentiary. The director of the institution, Christ, had a so-called “spring iron” fastened between Kirbach’s feet. This was an iron rod about one foot long, fastened around the ankles with footcuffs. Whenever Kirbach wanted to walk, he had to jump, hence the name “spring iron.” By this process the skin and flesh of the ankles were chafed thru. As Kirbach not only suffered terrible agonies, but also fell dangerously ill, the spring iron had to be taken off after a while. Politically, this former revolutionist later developed into a national liberal, like so many others, but in one corner of his heart he always preserved democratic leanings. He was the only one among the national liberals who voted in the Saxon parliament in favor of our bill for the introduction of universal, equal and direct suffrage.

Quite a different political development was taken by Kirbach’s fellow prisoner, August Roeckel. When, in 1866, the political crisis burst over Germany, Roeckcl took sides with his former enemy, von Beust, and went to Vienna with him as his press agent, when Beust became prime minister of Austria.

But no matter what might be the conditions in Prussia, the liberals regarded it as the state which alone could realize German unity as they saw it, and which could protect them against a rule of the masses. For this reason they observed the tactics of assailing vigorously the small and medium-sized states, in order that the state of the German mission, as they regarded Prussia, might appear in a more favorable light. It is true that the era of Bismarck was very much in the way of this myth, but it was declared to be a passing phenomenon, and after it, Prussia would shine in its real glory of liberalism. But Mr. von Bismarck was a reality of the first order, and he also knew the liberals, of whom he said: “They fear the revolution more than they hate me.” This was quite right. Meanwhile the passions were approaching white heat. The man who pounded Bismarck hardest, and who uttered the most significant threats, was sure of the most stormy applause. Even in some liberals, the old revolutionary passion awoke, as it did in John Miquel, who, ten years earlier, had been connected with Karl Marx, and who had not quite broken off all relations with him even in the sixties (altho Marx had proclaimed himself a communist and atheist) and offered his help for the organization of farmers’ revolts. Miquel threatened the king with the fate of the Bourbons, and insinuated that he would call out the working class against the Hohenzollerns, if these gentlemen should fail to listen to reason. A similar statement was made by him in a private circle at the general convention of the German National Club in Leipsic. Nearly thirty years later, John Miquel, then Mr. von Miquel, was minister of finance for a Hohenzollern, and meantime the national liberal party, which he had helped to found and which had then become very tame, was still too liberal for him.

However, some of these threats may have reached Bismarck’s ears. The most bloody threats, thru anonymous letters, were no doubt in vogue a long time before there were any Socialist leaders, who received dozens of them. At least, Bismarck admitted publicly, later on, that he had not thought it impossible that he might have to meet the fate of Strafford, who was executed as the minister of Charles the First of England. For that reason, Bismarck said he had put his house in order, as a good fighter should, who wants to be prepared for all emergencies.

A rumor concerning the king about this time was to the effect that he was suffering from hallucinations as a result of the continued excitement, and that he feared he would be overtaken by the fate of the Bourbons. These rumors were corroborated later on by a published statement, which the late Prussian member of parliament, von Eynern, declared to be a personal communication of Bismarck. According to this, Bismarck said: “When he was appointed minister in 1862, he rode as far as Jueterbog to meet the king. He found him very downcast. The gentry of Baden, whom the king had met, had considered the conflict with the parliament insoluble, and had tried to induce him to give in. The king then said to him: 'You have become a minister, but only to mount the scaffold that will be erected for you on Opera Place; myself, the king, will be the next to follow you.' The king thought, no doubt,” said Bismarck, “that I would talk these things out of him, but I did the opposite, because I knew him to be an honest and fearless man in the face of a known danger.” I said to him that I did not think these two cases were wholly impossible just then, but what did that matter? We all had to die some time, and it was immaterial whether it happened sooner or later. He, Bismarck, would die in that case, as was his duty, in the service of his king and master, and the king would die in defense of his sacred rights, as would he his duty against himself and his people. It was not necessary to think immediately of Louis the Sixteenth; he died a disagreeable death, but Charles the First had met his death in a very decent way, a way that was just as honorable as death on the battle field.

"When I appealed in this way to the military honor of the king,” continued Bismarck, “he became still more serious, and then he became sure of himself, and I rode into Berlin with a serene and determined man who was eager to fight."

These statements show what the liberals might have accomplished, if they had known how to exploit the situation. But they were already afraid of the laborers standing behind them. Bismarck’s word that he would move the Acheron, if things went to extremes, scared them out of their wits.

It is a fact that Bismarck used every stratagem to become master of the situation. He took his tools wherever he found them. He would have allied himself with the devil and the devil’s grandmother if it had been to his advantage. For instance, he took into his service, August Brass, the editor-in-chief of the then Greater German “Norddeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung,” altho this man had been a red democrat in his time, and had written the pretty verse:

"We dye red, we dye good,
We dye with every tyrant’s blood."

Nor did Bismarck raise any objections when Brass invited Liebknecht from London and Robert Schweichel from Lausanne to become editors of his paper. Bismarck also succeeded, in 1864, in winning Lothar Bucher, that old democrat and refuser of taxes, whose great historical knowledge and clever pen he used to his advantage. It was also Bucher who made an attempt, in 1865, under instructions from Bismarck, to win Karl Marx as a collaborator for the Prussian “Staatsanzeiger.” They offered Marx a free field to write anything he pleased, even to agitate for communism.

The methods now employed by Bismarck in his rule were copied from Louis Napoleon, who was a master in the exploitation of existing class antagonisms for his system, even under the handicap of universal suffrage. It soon became evident that Bismarck likewise tried to exploit the labor movement to his interests against the liberal bourgeoisie. His helper in this game was the Privy Counselor, Hermann Wagner, whose knowledge of social questions and cleverness made him the right man for this place.

At the end of August, 1862, a labor meeting in Berlin had also decided to call a general congress of German workingmen, to be held in that city. This induced the Leipsic committee to get in touch with the leading men of the Berlin movement, in order to come to an agreement concerning the calling of this congress. It was desired that Leipsic should be the meeting place, on account of its superior geographical location. In the beginning of October, the painter and decorator, Eichler, came to Leipsic as the representative of the Berlin movement, to hold a conference, which I attended as a member of our committee.

This conference took place in the beer house, “Zum Joachimstal,” in the Hainstreet. Eichler went straight to the point. He declared that the laborers had nothing to expect from the progressive party or from the National Club. The majority of the committee shared this view on account of recent experiences. Eichler continued, saying that he was sure — and this showed him to be an agent of Bismarck, in our opinion — that Bismarck was in favor of universal, equal and direct suffrage, and was also ready to grant the necessary funds (60,000 to 80,000 Prussian dollars) for the foundation of a productive association of the engine makers.

At that time the engine makers formed the cream of the Berlin laborers, and were considered the real bodyguards of the progressive party. The statements of Eichler started a debate of several hours, and the final result was that the committee, with the exception of Fritzsche, declared itself against Eichler. It is remarkable that Eichler proclaimed ideas which were stated six months later in Lassalle’s open letter to the Leipsic committee only that Lassalle demanded a democratic state as the founder of productive associations subsidized by it.

In those days, the name of Lassalle was as yet unknown to us, altho he had given a lecture, in April of that year, “on the particular connection of the present historical period with the idea of the workers’ estate.” This lecture was later published, and is still published to-day, under the title, “The Workingmen’s Program.” In the same year he had also given his lecture on the constitution. That these lectures remained unknown to us was probably due to the fact that none of us read any Berlin papers. We derived our information concerning the issues of the day from the Leipsic dailies, especially from the democratic “Mitteldeutsche Volkszeitung.” What this paper did not publish remained unknown to us. Times were slow then. When Eichler informed us that Bismarck would eventually be in favor of universal, equal and direct suffrage, he had merely expressed an idea that was then being publicly propagated by others, especially by Privy Counselor, Hermann Wagner. The idea was that universal suffrage could be imposed by decree, and the argument was: if the three-class system of voting has been imposed in May, 1849, then it can be cancelled by another royal decree, and a new election system can be imposed. This prospect was very disagreeable to the liberals, because they were, in the large majority, opposed to universal, equal and direct suffrage, and Mr. von Unruh, one of their principal leaders, gave public expression to their anxiety. The liberals concealed their dislike of this universal suffrage behind the excuse that this demand was inopportune, so long as the conflict over the constitution was not settled, and that this fight against Bismarck’s ministry should first be ended, before any change should be considered in election methods. That the conservative demagogues of those days went in strong for the introduction of the most democratic of all suffrages, whereas to-day they are among its bitterest enemies, is easily explained. Napoleon the Third, who reintroduced universal, equal and direct suffrage in France after his stroke of diplomacy, while the dishonest republic had replaced it by a worse system, had made a good bargain with it. Of course, the authorities had exerted the necessary pressure on the voters. In the beginning there were only seven opposition men among six hundred delegates, all others were imperial stool pigeons. Only in 1863 did the opposition increase to 38 members, and in 1869 to 110.

On the other hand, the three-class system of voting, which had been imposed in Prussia for the purpose of obtaining a subservient parliament, had rather resulted in a strong opposition, and so the idea suggested itself to imitate the example of Napoleon.

Another question is: how did the idea of productive associations subsidized by the state get into the circles of the conservatives? It seems that Lassalle was working on this idea as early as 1862, and communicated it to his confidential friend, the Countess Hatzfeld, by whom this idea was then carried into conservative circles, even before Lassalle had propagated it publicly. Later, when Vahlteich had become the secretary of Lassalle, he discovered the ambiguous elements that surrounded Lassalle. Liebknecht made the same observation, and warned him especially against Bismarck, but Lassalle replied: “Pshaw, I eat cherries with Mr. von Bismarck, and he gets the stones.” It is very probable that Privy Counselor Wagner suggested to Eichler that productive associations with state subsidies were a part of Bismarck’s plans, even before Bismarck himself had entertained the idea.(1) The role of Eichler, and the relations of Bismarck to Lassalle, were made clear in September, 1878, during the discussion of the anti-Socialist laws, when I referred to these matters. I then accused Bismarck that he was now trying to annihilate the social democracy, but that formerly he had attempted to use it for his own political ends. I referred first to the case of Eichler, and to the offers made by him to the Leipsic committee. Then I mentioned the fact that Lassalle had been brought into touch with Bismarck thru the intervention of a Hohenzollern prince (probably Prince Albrecht, the brother of the king), and of the Countess Hatzfeld, that Bismarck’s conversations with Lassalle had lasted for hours, and that one day even the Bavarian ambassador, who wanted to see Bismarck, had been dismissed, because Lassalle had been with him.

Prince Bismarck took the floor in reply to me on the following day, the 17th of September. I had made the mistake to say that the conference between Eichler and the Leipsic committee had taken place in September instead of October. Bismarck took this as a point of departure, in order to prove that he could not have given any such orders, because he did not enter the ministry until the 23rd of September. But he remembered that Eichler later on made demands on him for services which he had not performed for him. He also admitted that Eichler had been in the service of the police and had furnished reports, some of which he had read. But these reports had not referred to the Social-Democratic party. They dealt with intimate proceedings of the progressive party and, if he was not mistaken, of the National Club.

This proved that our suspicions in the committee against Eichler were well founded. For the rest, Prince Bismarck denied that he had intended to allow $60,000 to $80,000 for a productive association. He said that he had not had any secret funds, and he asked where he could have found the money. This was said by the same man who had declared in parliament, in 1863, that the government would, if necessary, carry on a war with or without the consent of the people’s representatives, and take the money for that purpose wherever it could be found — and who for years spent the money of the state without the consent of parliament. Concerning my charge that he had maintained relations with Lassalle, he replied that it was not he, but Lassalle, that had desired to speak to him, and he had not placed any difficulties in his way. And he had not been sorry. Not that he had entered into any negotiations with him, for what could the poor devil Lassalle have offered to him? But Lassalle had greatly fascinated him; he had been one of the most brainy and amiable men whom he had ever known, and he had not been a republican either. He had rather worked toward the realization of a German empire. In this they had found a common touch. Lassalle had been highly ambitious. He may have been in doubt whether the German emperors should close their line with the dynasty of the Hohenzollerns or with the dynasty of Lassalle, but at any rate he had been thru and thru a monarchist. This declaration was followed by great merriment in the Reichstag.

The offhand manner in which Bismarck tried to make a monarchist of Lassalle needs no refutation, for it is sufficiently refuted by Lassalle’s writing and letters. But still Lassalle’s role, to his relations with Bismarck, was rather peculiar. Relying on his great self-dependence and his independent social position, he thought he could transact business with Bismarck as one power with another, even before he had any power behind him. It is useless to speculate how this game might have ended, for the death of Lassalle, at the end of August, 1864, removed him as a partner in this affair.

Bismarck also denied, in this speech, that he and Lassalle had discussed the idea of imposing the universal, equal and direct suffrage. I could not prove the contrary, but I did not believe Bismarck. In this case, Lassalle is more trustworthy to me for in his defense, before the state court in Berlin, on March 12, 1864, he said, publicly: “And so I announce to you, in this solemn place, that it may not be a year before Mr. von Bismarck will have played the role of Robert Peel, and will have imposed the universal and direct suffrage.” Lassalle could not have spoken so definitely, if the imposition of universal, equal and direct suffrage had not been mentioned in his conversations with Bismarck. I repeat that this idea was being continually discussed very seriously in conservative circles and it was fully believed in the liberal camp. Besides, Bismarck, who ruled unconstitutionally against the decisions of parliament, and who, in June, 1863, issued the infamous press ordinances, in defiance of law and justice, was not the man to recoil from the imposition of an election system, if he hoped to profit from such a step. Moreover, such an imposition would not have been resented by the masses in Prussia, who had been politically disfranchised.

What a character the transactions between Lassalle and Bismarck had assumed may be seen from two letters of Lassalle, which were published much later, but which are in their best place right here.

Lassalle wrote to Bismarck:

"Your Excellency! — Above all, I accuse myself, because I forgot yesterday to urge upon you once more that eligibility should be accorded to every German. An immense means of power! The real “moral” conquest of Germany! As far as the technicalities of the election are concerned, I have read last night the entire history of French legislation, and have found but little of any use there. But I have also reflected some, and I am, therefore, in a position to submit to your Excellency the desired recipes that will prevent abstentions from voting and scattering of votes. There is no doubt that they are thoroly effective.

"I expect, then, that your Excellency will fix some evening for us. I urgently request that the evening be chosen in such a way that we will not be disturbed. I have much to say concerning the technique of elections, and have other things to discuss with your Excellency, and an undisturbed and exhaustive discussion is really indispensable, considering the pressing character of the situation.

“Awaiting the decision of your Excellency, I remain, with profound respect, your Excellency’s most devoted”

“F. LASSALLE.

"Berlin, Wednesday, 13, t, 64, Potsdamer Str.13.”

“And furthermore:

“Your Excellency! — I should not press you, but conditions are pressing tremendously, and so I beg you will excuse my urgency. I wrote you last Wednesday that I had the desired “recipes” — recipes of the greatest efficacy — ready for you. I believe that our next conversation will be of decisive moment, and followed by vital decisions. Believing that these vital decisions should no longer be deferred, I shall take the liberty to put in an appearance to-morrow (Saturday) evening at 8.30 pm.

Should your Excellency be prevented from seeing me, I beg another time be fixed in the near future. With profound respect, your Excellency’s most devoted

“F. LASSALLE.”

“Saturday evening, 16, I, 64, Potsdamer Str. 13.”

Mr. von Keudell, who was employed by the Foreign Office at that time and knew about the relations of Bismarck with Lassalle, claims that Bismarck broke off his connections with Lassalle, because the latter became too importune. The last letter of Lassalle lends color to this claim. At any rate this relation of Lassalle’s with Bismarck, and many other actions of his in 1864, were rather risky, and could not be undertaken by any one smaller than he. Unfortunately, he set an example with this relationship, and with his general bearing near the end of his life, that encourages others, who were not Lassalles, to stray into wrong paths. Of this more anon.

A significant feature of Bismarck’s speech of September 17, 1878, is also the manner in which he looks upon productive associations, to the horror of the liberals. After admitting that he had conversed for hours with Lassalle, and had always regretted when these conversations were over, he continued: “I admit that I spoke with Lassalle concerning the granting of state subsidies to productive associations, that is a matter the practicability of which I still maintain.” This idea he carried out further. The granting of 6,000 dollars from the treasury of the king to a committee of weavers from the Reichenbach-Neurode district, for the purpose of founding a productive association, indicates that every means was welcome to him that would drive a wedge between the working class and the bourgeoisie, in order to maintain himself in power according to the maxim: “Divide and rule."

In this description of events, I have outrun the course of things a little.

A short while after Eichler’s presence in Leipsic, Fritzsche, Vahlteich and Dolge went to Berlin as delegates, in order to confer with the leaders of the Berlin workers and with those of the progressive party and of the National Club, concerning the above mentioned matters. An agreement was quickly reached that the German labor congress should not be called until the beginning of 1863, to meet in Leipsic. It was also easy to agree on the order of business of this congress, from which the point “World’s exposition in Berlin” was eliminated. Eichler and other laborers had been a visitor of the London exposition in the summer of 1862, to which the National Club and some communal boards had sent representatives. On the whole, about fifty laborers, under the leadership of Max Wirth, visited the London exposition. In this way the idea of a Berlin exposition had arisen.

The conference with the leaders of the liberals gave but little satisfaction to the Leipseic delegation, and they said so frankly in their report after their return. In the beginning of 1862, the National Club held its general convention in Leipsic. It could not venture to hold its convention in a Prussian city, altho it worked for the leadership of Prussia. Schulze-Delitzsch spoke on January 3rd to a large audience in Tivoli, the present People’s House of the Leipsic laborers, a transformation that no one in those early days would have considered possible. Here, Dr. Dammer asked Schulze-Delitzsch to say something about the relation of the National Club to the laborers. Schulze replied, among other things, that the laborer should indeed take an interest in politics. But, he continued, has the laborer, who is so badly off that he lives from hand to mouth, the time and the inclination to take an interest in public affairs? No, surely not! The emancipation of the laborer from this miserable existence is a great national mission for every friend of the people, and especially for Germany. And true laborers, who use their savings for the purpose of improving their condition, “I welcome in the name of the committee as intellectual members, as honorary members, of the National Club."

This speech created some bad blood in the circles of the radical laborers. It showed that the National Club wanted to keep laborers out of the membership of the club, and that for this reason it declined to accept monthly membership dues. When a new delegation went to Berlin soon after that meeting, composed of Dr. Dammer, Fritzsche and Vahlteich, it was not left in doubt concerning the sentiments of the leading people in the club toward the laborers. Then it was young Ludwig Loewe, the founder of the well-known factory of arms, Ludwig Loewe & Co., who led the deputation to Lassalle. Here the three found what they were looking for: an understanding of their demands and a willing assistance. They came to an agreement with Lassalle to defer the labor congress a little longer, until Lassalle should have written out his ideas concerning the relations of the laborers in state and society in a pamphlet, which the Leipsic central committee would circulate.

I wish to state at this point that the change in the leading personalities of the Leipsic movement expressed itself visibly and so rapidly that they were charged by their opponents with vacillation and unclearness. In November, 1862, a large labor meeting still had decided, on a motion of Fritzsche, to nominate a committee for the foundation of a consumers’ co-operative club. And in the beginning of February, 1863, at a time when connections with Lassalle had already been established, Fritzsche reported about a trip to Gotha and Erfurt, about the consumers’ clubs there and moved the foundation of such a club for Leipsic. Vahlteich obstructed the vote on this motion by declaring that the central committee had already taken this matter under advisement. This was very wisely done on his part, for it would have looked queer if a consumers’ club had been founded in Leipsic at the time when Lassalle was already at work on his open letter, in which he declared consumers’ clubs to be useless as a means of improving the condition of the laborers.

Vahlteich was at that time still in a comparatively peaceful mood. At the end of 1862 he published in the Leipsic “Mitteldeutsche Volkszeitung” a long polemical article against the attacks made on the central committee. He declared that the duty to the future aims of the laborers demanded that we should exercise the greatest moderation. On the other hand Vahlteich, in this article, went farther than Lassalle, who still spoke of the laborer’s estate, by making the statement: “The laborers do not form a distinct estate, but they are a distinct class created by actual conditions.” With the appearance of Lassalle’s open letter, the leaders changed front completely. It would be a mistake to blame them for this. In times of unrest, changes of mind are rapidly made. The thinking process is accelerated. Three years later, when Germany hastened toward the catastrophe of 1866, I and many of my fellow fighters had a similar experience. The rapid transformation of a Saul into a Paul takes place again and again without miracles.

In the beginning of November, 1862, I had resigned from the central committee. My position in the industrial club took up my time, my energy and my interest to the highest degree. As I spent every evening in the club, unless I went to a labor meeting or to a committee session, I became more familiar with the wishes and wants of the members than the presidents of the club. In this way I soon became the most diligent mover of motions at the committee meetings and monthly meetings. My motions were almost always certain of adoption. This gave me a great influence. But at that time I was still a laborer, that is, I had to stand at the turning bench from 6 am to 7 pm, with an interruption of two hours for meals. So my excessive activity in different directions also became a money question. Besides, the debates in the committee and in the meetings seemed very confused and useless to me, and this facilitated my resignation from the committee.

On February 6, 1863, I had a controversy with Vahlteich. He was a delegate of the Vorwaerts Club, I for the Industrial Club, at the anniversary of the Dresden Workers’ Educational Club. During the banquet, Vahlteich made a provocatory speech, in which he stated, in his usual way, that the workers should acquire political and humanitarian culture, but not any elementary schooling. He said it was the business of the state to furnish the schooling. He called for a cheer for the other two kinds of education. This aroused me. I took issue with him, and called for a cheer for general culture. Of course, this altercation did not make a good impression, but I could not very well ignore Vahlteich’s provocation, especially since the Dresden club followed the same aims as our own.


1. After the book was written, I received a copy of the memoirs of Privy Counselor Hermami Wagner ("Erlebtes"), in which he relates that he had maintained relations with Lassalle and the Countess Hatzfeld and other leaders of the Socialists (Schweitzer?). So it is very probable that he learned the idea of the program from Lassalle personally and used it on Eichler.


Next: Lassalle’s Rise and Its Results