August Bebel

Reminiscences


Friedrich Albert Lange

Thru my membership on the permanent committee, I came into closer contact with Friedrich Albert Lange, personally and by correspondence. He had a short and strong figure, and was of a sympathetic presence. He had magnificent eyes, and was one of the most amiable men whom I have ever known. He won the hearts of people at first sight. Withal, he was a man of firm character, who went thru life upright, and who was not cowed by oppression. And this was not spared to him, when he openly championed the working class. Very soon he became one of the “outlawed” and “isolated” in the industrial city of Duisburg. Between us and the Lassalleans, he occupied a middle ground, as evidenced by his book on the “Labor Question,” published in January, 1865. If, in later editions of his work, his standpoint inclines more to the right side, and if it is true, as critics of his history of materialism say, that he inclines towards metaphysics in it, I regard these leanings as results of a long and severe physical ailment, to which he succumbed, all too young.

On the permanent committee, Lange always stood on the left side and pressed toward the left. To me he rendered a great personal service at that time, for purely objective reasons. As I have already mentioned, we in Leipsic had come into conflict with the “Allgemeine Deutsche Arbeiterzeitung.” The opposition of the paper against the holding of the convention in Leipsic had naturally created some ill-feeling among us.

The editors of the “Arbeiterzeitung,” probably thru gossips in Leipsic, had received the impression that I was trying to undermine the paper, and that I was a follower of Beust. That was pretty strong. I had, on the contrary, always spoken for the paper, and had promoted its distribution. In the permanent committee, likewise, in which some opponents of the Coburg “Arbeiterzeitung” were seated, I spoke in favor of this paper, and advocated a favorable agreement with the publishers. But when the Coburg “Arbeiterzeitung” continued its attacks against me, I sent them a peppery statement, from which they published only a passage in which I said that I was a merciless opponent of Beust’s mismanagement.

This quarrel induced the permanent committee to entrust Lange with the writing of a report, in which he defended me warmly and justified my attitude. At any rate, the “Arbeiterzeitung” at least accomplished this much, that I was beaten by one vote in the election of delegates to the Stuttgart convention, when the ballots were cast at our state convention in Clanchau, on July 30, 1863. But when I later on explained my position in the matter of the “Arbeiterzeitung,” a number of delegates declared that now they looked at the matter in a different way. The “Arbeiterzeitung” later gave me full satisfaction, and declared that it had been misinformed. Streit himself personally excused himself to me at the Stuttgart national convention.

The events of the year 1866, which I shall mention later, and the attitude of Lange towards them, made him impossible in Duisburg, where he was secretary of the chamber of commerce. He dropped his little paper, “The Messenger of the Lower Rhine,” and accepted an invitation of his friend, Bleuler, to transfer his domicile to Winterthur, in Switzerland. There he became a member of the editorial staff of Bleuler’s “Rural Messenger of Winterthur.” Bleuler was one of the leaders of the radical democracy in the canton of Zurich. Bleuler, Lange and the young Reinhold Ruegg, the subsequent co-owner of the “Zurich Post,” started a sweeping agitation for a democratic reform of the constitution of the canton, with the assistance of fellow spirits, and in 1868 they saw their work crowned with success. It was due to Lange’s influence that the new constitution contained the following, Article 23: “The state protects and promotes, by way of legislation, the intellectual and physical welfare of the working classes and the development of the co-operative system.”

Meanwhile, as I wish to state by way of anticipation I had become chairman of the suburban committee of workingmen’s clubs. The issue was now to induce the clubs to take the last definite step into the Social-Democratic camp. It was evident to me that this would not be done without a split. I hoped to secure Lange’s assistance for this step, and on June 22, 1868, I wrote him a long letter, which his biographer, Professor C. A. Ellissen, (1) calls a “very peculiar letter.” In this letter, I asked Lange to make the report on the military question that was to be presented at the Nuremberg convention. “Aside from the military question,” so I continued, according to Ellissen, for I haven’t that letter at hand, “there are still other points upon the order of business, in the discussion of which your presence and your weighty voice are of the greatest importance.” In the same letter, I also mentioned the question of a program and the probability of a split, “but ten reliable clubs are better than thirty doubtful ones.”

Lange replied, on July 5th:

“Dear Mr. Bebel: —

“I regret very much to have left you in doubt but my existence during the last week was such that I was in Zurich in the day time, in order to report on the work of the committee on constitution, and that during the night I had to take care of a daily paper and a weekly. My associate and colleague, in his capacity as vice-president of the committee on constitution and member of numerous special committees, has momentarily so much to do `pro patria,’ that I have the editorial work and the care of a rather large business on my own shoulders. Under these circumstances, I cannot think of any correspondence except Saturday afternoon and Sunday. Unfortunately, I cannot dispose freely of my time until after the new constitution shall have been completed, and we shall be glad to get it done this year. It is true, that we shall get a pause of several months; but I cannot tell with certainty when it will be, and so I regret that I must decline to undertake the report on the military question. If my time should permit, I shall, nevertheless, go to Nuremberg, as I am also anxious to meet so many good friends once more, altho some of them are in another camp.”

The Nuremberg convention took place without Lange. I never saw him again, and my correspondence with him ceased also. At the end of October, 1870, Lange was appointed professor at the university of Zurich. When, in 1872, the liberal minister of education, Falk, called Lange to Marburg as a professor, Zurich tried in vain to hold him. The pull of the home country, which was particularly strong in his wife, won out. But on November 23, 1875, he succumbed to his long ailment, at the age of only 47 years. With Lange, one of the best men ceased to live.


1. Friedrich Albert Lange. A biography by O. A. Ellissen. Leipsic, 1891. A book worth reading.


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