August Bebel

Reminiscences


The Stuttgart National Convention

The third national convention of the workingmen’s Clubs had been called by the permanent committee for September 3d to 5th, 1865, to Stuttgart. In it, sixty clubs and one district federation were represented by sixty delegates. Among the delegates, the following were prominent: Hermann Greulich of Reutingen, Professor Eckhardt of Mannheim, Banker Edward Pfeiffer of Stuttgart, Julius Motteler of Crimmitschau, who had been in Leipsic in 1864, Streit of Coburg, Staudinger of Nuremberg, Professor Wundt of Heidelberg, who later acquired a great name as a physiologist, and who is now professor at the University of Leipsic. Of the men named here, Hermann Greulich went, shortly after the Stuttgart convention, from Rettingen to Zurich, where he became a Socialist about the same time that I did. He was a disciple of Carl Buerkli and Jean Philipp Becker. Julius Motteler passed thru the same development about the same time. Professor Eckhardt was the editor of the “Deutsche Wochenblatt,” founded in Mannheim in 1864. Eckhardt stood on the extreme left wing of democracy.

In the local committee sat Banker Pfeiffer and Lawyer Hoelder, who was later on Minister of the Interior for Württemberg, and who, in the name of the local committee and of the city, welcomed the delegates. Bandow presided. The order of business was once more overcrowded. The point, “old age insurance,” was stricken off, at the request of Sonnemann. He desired to issue a leaflet about it first. I had to make a report on co-operative meals, such as were in vogue in the German workingmen’s clubs of Switzerland for unmarried men. My printed report was very meager. My speech on it was the shortest of all. Max Hirsh had the report on the conquest of universal, equal and direct suffrage. He advocated, in the resolution offered by him, that the workingmen’s clubs should exert their whole strength for its conquest. This resolution called forth the opposition of Wundt, who moved, in the name of the clubs of Oldenburg and Baden, with the exception of Mannheim, that the regular order of business be taken up, which called forth a storm of anger. Finally, Hirsch altered his resolution by substituting “German workingmen” for “German workingmen’s clubs,” whereupon the resolution was unanimously adopted. Hirzel-Nuremberg reported on the fight of coalition; he demanded the abolition of all barriers which stood in the way of the exercise of this right, and it was so resolved, unanimously. With the same unanimity, the motion of Bandow, to abolish the wanderbooks and the compulsory identification, was adopted.

Moritz Mueller, of Pforzheim, a somewhat peculiar but zealous and in his way benevolent manufacturer of jewellery, had to report on the woman question, which question he handled as a specialty. In his written report he demanded the full social equality of women with men, the foundation of educational institutes for female laborers, and the organisation of unions of female laborers. The debate on this question consumed the longest time. Professor Eckhardt declared expressly that the social emancipation of women implied also the granting of suffrage to women, such as the convention demanded for men. With this interpretation, the resolutions of Mueller were adopted by a considerable majority.

The decisions of the Stuttgart convention signified, as a whole, a decided step toward the left. In all practical questions of internal politics, the so-called “self-helpers” and the Lassalleans stood upon the same ground. The organization, likewise, underwent a slight improvement. The contribution of $2.00 per year from each club signified the financial impotence of the permanent committee. So I made the suggestion, in the leaflets of the permanent committee, to begin by levying a per capita tax of one groschen per year on each member, and paying the chairman of the permanent committee $300.00, in order that men who were financially dependent might be able to accept this position. Furthermore, I suggested that the chairman be elected directly by the national convention. And, finally, I moved that the national convention should be called only once in two years, on account of the great expense, and thus to enable the district federations to develop better. This was not exactly a master stroke on my part. After a lively debate, the dues of one groschen per capita, which the committee on organization also advocated, were adopted, but my other suggestions were declined. The convention also decided, by a vote of 30 against 22, that an official organ of the clubs was not needed. By this decision, a clash with the publisher of the Coburg “Arbeiterzeitung” was avoided, which paper had a strong following among the clubs. I should like to remark at this point, that the available reports of the proceedings of these conventions are exceedingly brief and very incomplete.

The following were elected members of the permanent committee: Bandow, Bebel, Eichelsdoerfer, M. Hirsch, Hochberger of Esslingen, Koenig of Hanau, F. A. Lange, Lippold of Glauchau, Richter of Hamburg, Sauerteig of Gotha, Sonnemann, Staudinger of Nuremberg. Sonnemann who was re-elected chairman of the committee, declined the position. His place was taken by Staudinger, who was not equal to it, as experience showed. He was a man of some years, a master tailor by profession, and the engineer, Hirzel of Nuremberg, was to be his assistant, in the capacity of secretary.

At no other national convention did the effort of the various bourgeois party leaders to gain a dominating influence over these clubs show itself so plainly as at this Stuttgart convention. All felt that they were approaching a decision on the German question. The discussions between the left and the right became more and more lively and acrimonious. The antagonisms between Prussia on the one side, and Austria and the majority of the small and medium sized German states became more acute. The joint occupation of the duchies of Slesvig-Holstein by Austrian and Prussian troops, after the defeat of the Danes and their exodus from both lands, which became German territory, generated more and more cases of conflict. The German people drifted, gradually, into a state of high excitement.

These feelings were evidenced also in the toasts at the banquet of the convention, which took place on Saturday evening, in the meeting hall of the convention, the “Liederhalle,” the same hall in which, 42 years later, in August, 1907, was held for the first time on German soil, the international congress of workingmen. While men, like Hoelder and his followers, were covertly praising the leading role of Prussia, the democrats, particularly their spokesman, Carl Mayer, of Stuttgart, advocated a radical solution, which we younger men, without saying as much in so many words, conceived as a demand for a German republic. Carl Mayer, then the most celebrated popular speaker of Württemberg, whom nature had endowed with a powerful voice, sat opposite me at the banquet table. He rose, in order to thunder with all the strength of his lungs, and in striking pictures, against the reactionary federal parliament in Frankfort, which should be removed, in order to pave the way for a democratic union of Germany. In his zeal, he shoved back the sleeves of his coat and shirt, and showed a pair of muscular arms, which he swung about to emphasize his speech. Now and then he pounded on the table with his fist, and made glasses and plates dance on it. Naturally his cheer for a free and democratic Germany brought forth thundering applause. The city of Stuttgart had also gone to some expense, and regaled us with an afternoon lunch and some Suabian wine, when we took a walk on Monday afternoon, to see the “Schuetzenhaus.”

Streit, in Coburg, was at that time publishing a work entitled “Germany’s Liberation from Its Deepest Shame,” in which open propaganda was made for a German republic, a thing that naturally would have been impossible without a revolution. But the idea of revolution did not terrify people in those days. The memories of the revolutionary years had been brought hack to life thru the speeches and writings of participants and non-participants. That a victorious revolution was possible, nearly all Germany, with the exception of the East-Elbian provinces, believed. I have already mentioned that Bismarck and Miquel adapted themselves to this possibility. The latter’s friend, Mr. von Bennigsen, wrote a letter to his mother in 1850, in which he said, after discussing the situation in Slesvig-Holstein

“So long as the national party does not rule in Prussia - and even at this moment the leaders are in doubt whether they should start a serious opposition against the present government for the next legislature - the heroic struggle of this German country will be in vain. I fear only too confidently that we shall witness the complete subjugation of Slesvig-Holstein, in order to fill the measure of shame and bitterness. But the rest of our European families of royal lineage shall not he disturbed by bad memories and dreams alone. In a dozen years, at the most, the thunder will no doubt roll again, and the lightning will strike, and among us younger men a greater number are daily taking a quiet oath that they, whether constitutionals or radicals, will not permit themselves to be deceived again by miserable promises, given in the moment of fear. The whole bunch will be shipped to America, and then we shall try to come to an agreement whether we want a king or a president. And the followers of von Gagern and Dahlmann will hardly try to prevent this, nor feel inclined to sooth ....”

Twelve years later the writer of this letter, in his capacity as president of the German National Club, was among the most influential personalities of Germany; he was, perhaps, the most influential. But Mr. von Bennigsen then observed the same policy which he had once condemned in the followers of von Gagern and Dahlmann. The idea of a revolution against Bismarckian Prussia had become incomprehensible to him. What he thought toward the end of his life, about the revolution of 1848 and 1849, may be seen by the excited debate which I called forth, intentionally, on the fiftieth anniversary of March 18th, on March 18th, 1898, in the German Reichstag, when Mr. von Bennigsen was my principal opponent.

What Lassalle, Marx and Engels thought of a coming revolution in Germany may be seen by their correspondence which Mehring published thru Dietz, in Stuttgart. The victorious march of Garibaldi to Naples and Sicily, in 1860, which secured an immense popularity for him thruout the entire civilized world, had also fortified the faith in the power of revolutionary masses.

That even in very high circles of southern Germany, the probability of a revolution in the interest of Germany was considered, is shown by the memoirs of Prince Hohenlohe, who, after dwelling at length upon the insufferable disruption of Germany, and the incompatibility of such a condition for any length of time, with the requirements of those days, declares: “This explains why even the most peaceful and conservative people of Germany arrive at the point where they proclaim that we must inaugurate unity by means of a revolution, because we cannot reach this goal by the legal road.” And Prince Carl of Bavaria wrote to Hohenlohe on March 23, 1866: “It seems to me that a more favorable opportunity to accomplish a federal reform without a revolution.”

If people thought that way on top why shouldn’t they have thought in the same way below?

* * *

The proceedings and decisions of the Stuttgart national convention, concerning the liberty of coalition, were a reply to the similar proceedings of the Prussian legislature. Schulze-Delitzsch and Faucher - the latter was a so-called political economist, who tried to demonstrate seriously in a public meeting in Leipsic, in 1864, that the social question could be solved most easily if everyone understood double entry book-keeping, and had a correctly going watch, so that he could calculate by the time - had moved to repeal the paragraphs 181 and 182 of the trade ordinance of 1845, referring to the prohibition of coalitions. But, strange to say, they had neglected to demand, also, the repeal of paragraphs 183 and 184. According to paragraph 183, the formation of organizations of factory employees, journeymen or apprentices, without the permission of the police, was punishable. The initiators and chairmen of such organizations could be punished with a fine of not more than $50.00, or imprisonment up to four weeks. The members could be fined not more than $20.00, or imprisonment for fourteen days. According to paragraph 184, it was punishable to quit work voluntarily, or keep away from it in order to shirk it, or to be disobedient, or to be renitent persistently, by a fine of $20.00, at a maximum, or imprisonment up to fourteen days. When called to order for this neglect by J.B. von Schweitzer’s “Social-democrat” and in public meetings, the movers of this repeal sent out the statement that paragraph 183 had been repealed for fifteen years by the Prussian constitution, and that paragraph 184 had nothing to do with the right of coalition. This conception created bad blood, even in our own ranks, and the Coburg “Arbeiterzeitung,” which had become ever more aggressive, sharply attacked Schulze-Delitzsch and his followers.

The leading conservative demagogue, privy Counselor Wagener, made adroit attempts to exploit this weak attitude of the liberals in this question, by going them one better. He moved that the bill of the liberals, offered by the committee, be declined, because its formulation was ambiguous, and that the government be asked to introduce a bill by which, not merely all the exceptional decrees of the trade ordinance concerning the restrictions of the workingmen’s right of association, would be repealed, but which would also pave the way for such organizations to carry them into effect, in order to enable the workingmen to assume their due position within the state and manage and represent their own interests independently. In other word compulsory trade unions organized by legal enactment.

So acted the conservatives at a time when they wished to cut off the water from the liberal bourgeoisie.

Another matter, in which both labor parties went hand in hand, was the festival of the members of parliament in Cologne and its course. The progressives of Cologne had invited the progressive members of the Prussian parliament, in other words, the overwhelming majority of the second House, to Cologne, for a reform festival, to be held July 22, 1865. The most brilliant feature of this was to be a banquet in the “Guerzenich.” Mr. von Bismarck issued a decree prohibiting this festival, and the first burgomaster of Cologne, Bachem, was weak enough to withdraw his permission for the use of the Guerzenich hall. This incident created a great sensation. When the representatives arrived in Cologne, Mr. von Bismarck ordered their meetings dispersed by the police and the soldiers. Thereupon they steamed to Oberlahnstein, in order to do there upon the soil of a small state what could not be done in the state of the German mission, Prussia. But even there the soldiers interfered and made a meeting impossible.

Everywhere vigorous protests arose against this brutal policy of Bismarck. In Berlin, in Leipsic and in other places, the Lassalleans and the members of workingmen’s clubs went hand in hand, in order to protest against the incidents in Cologne, and to demand the full liberty of the clubs and meetings. Like the “Social-democrat,” the Coburg “Arbeiterzeitung” started a campaign of derision and scorn against the progressive representatives that had behaved with anything but bravery in this affair.

These incidents gave rise to a correspondence between Sonnemann and Fr. Albert Lange. The latter had been in Cologne to witness the festival. Sonnemann complained, because Lange had not sent him a report on the Cologne events, and ventured the opinion that the Social Democrats were playing a game of chance, and would lose it. He sent Lange, by the same mail, a letter about the Cologne happenings from Bandow, who, unfortunately, was ill at this critical time, and requested that Lange forward this letter to me, after reading it, whereupon I might return it to Sonnemann. I do not remember any more what the letter contained.

Lange replied, on July 31, 1865: “As for the meeting at Lantsch (labor meeting in Cologne), I did not think it opportune to say much about it. The sentiment of the audience was excellent. But I do not care any more than you to assume the responsibility of giving out any watchword on my own hook in these times of ferment, and this would have been necessary in a report of this meeting, with its interesting consequences.

“I judge the time very much as you do, as a very critical one. By the way, I do not think that Schweitzer is playing a game of chance altogether. For in that case the game would be lost already. The workingmen at present, especially in the Rhineland, do not think at all of rising for the sake of principle. I believe that the intention is rather to kill the “Social-democrat” honestly, and then, relying on the publicly started organization, to introduce the system of secret societies (? ! A.B.). I am no longer blinded by the splendor of the House of Representatives. Never have I felt more clearly that the present Progressive Party has reached its end, but our time has not come yet.

“Let us observe and keep the threads in our hands, enlarge our connections, gather friends; but do not let us give out any watchword. We shall find out by and by whether we can go together, when the time comes. Meanwhile, let us cultivate our interrelations.....

“Reverting to the attitude of our paper (the leaflets), and the political and social crisis, I recommend once more to keep the social part exhaustive and interesting, but objective; but make the political part sharp, as frank against all rulers, as possible. We cannot take any other part in the controversies of this gentry but the same, against all of them, more particularly against those who are now whistling a liberal melody.”

In a postscript, Lange writes: “I see just now that the beginning of my letter is unnecessarily mysterious. The reports of all liberal papers on the Lantsch meeting are invented out of the whole cloth. With the exception of W. Angerstein, no reporter was present. After the meeting, a voluntary parade was formed, and marched thru the streets to welcome the representatives. In front of the Main guard-house, the right of association was cheered, etc. The movement was as completely out of the hands of the Lassalleans as it was unwelcome to the Liberals. The people were looking for leaders. At a hint from Angerstein and myself, they would have done anything we wished.... Things took their natural course. No one led. But it was easy to see what would happen, if the government should continue in the same way.”

In the above letter, Lange intimated that later on there might be a split in the permanent committee and in the clubs. Still more clearly, he expressed himself on that point in a letter of February 10th, to Sonnemann. In it he said:

"In the matter of my attitude toward the labor question, my plan was at first to make my stay on the permanent committee dependent upon the reception of my little work (“The Labor question”). But now it seems more appropriate, in every respect, that I should hold my position, even if I should get to a somewhat sharper opposition to the majority. The minds are bound to clash.”

In the years 1865, and in the beginning of 1866, it seemed for a while as tho the hostile brothers in the labor movement would come to terms. Aside from the above mentioned cases, in which Lassalleans and members of workingmen’s clubs made common cause, and worked for the same demands, a meeting of the Main district, on July 17, 1865, in which Latter and Welcker of Frankfort-on-Main appeared as speakers from the General Association of German Workingmen, expressed itself in the following manner:

“The labor meeting declares that, in the interest of the good cause of the laboring estate, it considers a split of the labor movement injurious and disadvantageous. This meeting, attended by members of the Main district and of the General Association of German Workingmen, stands ready to lend a hand in any measures leading to a unification.”

The principal speaker at that meeting was Professor Eckhardt, who had the subject, “State Help and Self-help,” as a basis for his speech. A similar attempt at unification, made about the middle of January, 1866, failed; but an agreement was made to fight unitedly for the conquest of universal, equal, direct and secret suffrage. The main speaker at this meeting was Professor Wuttke.

Another public meeting, soon after the foregoing one, which had once more been called by both labor parties, in Dresden, demanded a constitutional parliament, on the basis of universal suffrage, and for its protection and support, the introduction of universal popular armament. The same demands were made in Berlin by a large public meeting, over which Bandow presided.

On Christmas, 1865, a general congress of German cigarmakers was called to Leipsic, as a result of a proclamation by Fritzsche. This congress resolved to form an organization for the whole of Germany. In the following spring appeared the organ of this organization, “Der Botschafter,” under the editorship of Fritzsche. In this way the first centrally organized labor union of Germany was founded. At its head stood a board of three, with Fritzsche as chairman. Local unions existed at this time in large numbers, both in Leipsic and in other places. As early as the Summer of 1864, a union of miners was organized in Zwickau, and its members spread over the coal region of Zwickau, Lugau and Stollberg. This was the first modern German mine workers’ organization. The founder and leader of this organization was a blacklisted miner, Ditner by name, whose efforts were vigorously supported by Motteler, W. Stolle and myself, later also by Liebknecht.

At the state convention in Glauchau, in July, I had made the suggestion that a district federation be formed in spite of the government, and that we dare the government to suppress and punish us. But the sentiment was against the proposition. So I withdrew my motion. On the other hand, it was decided to found an organization for the promotion and support of the intellectual and material interests of the workingmen’s clubs, and I became chairman of this organization. It was, furthermore, decided that every member should pay dues at the rate of one groschen per year. The new organization was joined by 29 clubs, with 4600 members. The authorities did not put any obstacles in the way of this organization.

When, twenty years later, as a member of the Saxon state legislature, I criticized the successor of Mr. von Beust, Mr. von Nostitz-Wallwitz, very sharply on account of the shameless interpretation given under his rule to the Saxon law concerning clubs and associations, and when I declared that, compared with his rule, the rule of Mr. von Beust had been highly liberal, the latter hastened to embody this statement in his memoirs by way of justification. To a certain extent he had a right to do so. What was later tried for decades, in the way of trickery and bold misinterpretations of the laws on association, surpasses all description. Both Mr. von Nostitz-Wallwitz and his successor, Mr. von Metzsch, declare repeatedly from the ministers’ desk, that the Social Democracy must be measured with a different measure than any other party. In other words, in place of law, there should be the arbitrary will of the officials. The latter have, indeed, made an almost unlimited use of such arbitrary will.

In August, 1865, Bismarck had prohibited the Coburg “Arbeiterzeitung” for Prussia. Among the men who fell victims to his rule, because they opposed his policy and exposed his true character to the working people, one of the first was Liebknecht.


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