August Bebel

Reminiscences


The Catastrophe of 1866

For an understanding of the coming events, and of our position towards them, it is necessary to give a brief review of the happenings which finally brought the long diplomatic struggles between Austria and Prussia for the supremacy of Germany to a decision on the battle field.

The death of the Danish king, Frederick VII, in November, 1863, gave rise anew to the question of Slesvig-Holstein, since the Oldenburg line became extinct with the demise of this king. The Slesvig-Holsteinians would not acknowledge that the new Danish king, Christian IX, was entitled to the position of hereditary duke, but decided in favor of prince Frederick of Augustenburg, who thereupon announced his accession to the government as Duke Frederick VIII. This implied the affiliation of these two duchies with Germany, and created general satisfaction. Denmark opposed this solution. Therefore the federal board had to order the execution of this claim against Denmark by means of federal power, and the task was entrusted to Saxony and Hannover. But this did not agree with Bismarck’s plans. He instructed one of his crown jurists to demonstrate that the Augustenburger was not entitled by heredity to the succession, and this decision aroused public sentiment extremely against Bismarck’s policy. Bismarck, the man who violated the Prussian constitution, was not regarded as one who would solve this question in conformity with the will of the people of Slesvig-Holstein, and it was remembered that it had been Prussia which was mainly to blame for the shameful outcome of the first war about Slesvig-Holstein, in 1851.

Under these circumstances, the Executive Board of the National Club met with vigorous assent, when it issued a proclamation to the people in the late fall of 1863, signed by Rudolf von Bennigsen as president, calling upon them to help themselves. The proclamation contained the following passages: “The National Club calls upon all communes, corporations, clubs, co-operatives and all friends of the fatherland to join it in the great cause and contribute money without delay, for the purpose of getting ready men and arms and all other means necessary to free our brothers in Slesvig-Holstein.”

No doubt this proclamation violated a number of laws in the individual states, but no public prosecutor stirred. The sentiments of the people sympathized with this procedure.

Shortly after that the committee of the National Club for Slesvig-Holstein issued a proclamation, in which were found the following words: “Well, then! Let us prepare, in order that the young men of Germany may take up arms as soon as the moment for action shall arrive.... Let them utilize the short interval, which may be left to us, to drill in the use of arms and in tactical instruction.”

This shows that the Liberal spokesmen of that time considered an armament of the people, on short notice, possible. Woe to the Social-Democrat who would issue a similar proclamation to-day. That is the progress made since that time!

Here I wish to mention that, in the beginning of the sixties, not only workingmen’s clubs, but also turners’ and marksmen’s clubs, sprang up in large numbers, and played a prominent rôle in the national movement. Bismarck frowned darkly upon this stirring life. The great festivals, which those associations alternately arranged all over Germany, were assemblies of masses who mainly occupied themselves with the German question. In Leipsic, during August, 1863, the general German turn festival took place, to which even Dr. von Beust paid his respects. But while he was making a patriotic speech on the gymnasium square, the Leipsic police prohibited the sale of the national constitution of 1849 in public places. I also participated in this festival, inasmuch as our singing section, whose chairman I had become after Fritzsche’s resignation, carried out the program of songs, together with other singing societies in the festival hall. In October of the same year, the fiftieth anniversary of the battle of Leipsic was also celebrated. This festival, in its way, was still far [grander?] than the turn festival. It was also utilized for great political demonstrations. In this I also took part as a member of our singing society.

From then on meetings in favor of the independence of Slesvig-Holstein were organized all over Germany. A labor meeting in Leipsic, in which all shades of political creeds were represented, resolved “that it is the duty of the German workingmen to offer their arms in all cases where the honor, the rights and the liberty of the fatherland are in danger.” Similar resolutions were adopted in other cities. The convention of representatives held, at the end of 1803 in Frankfort-on-Main, which was attended by 500 representatives, declared against the annexation of Slesvig-Holstein by any German state. This declaration was aimed at Prussia and Bismarck, for whose policies even the Liberals did not dare to stand up in those days, altho in their hearts, they were in favor of annexation by Prussia.

Of course, Bismarck was highly indignant over the obstacles placed in the way of his policies. He demanded that the Frankfort Senate dissolve the committee of thirty-six of the convention of representatives, whose chairman was the City Counselor, Mueller, in Frankfort. Furthermore, he demanded that this senate prohibit the military exercises of the young men of Frankfort. Both his demands were declined. But he did not forget Frankfort. In 1866, that “nest of democrats” had to suffer for it, for he first worried it and then annexed it. In the end, the question of Slesvig-Holstein was solved, after all, according to Bismarck’s wish. He succeeded in getting the best of the manager of Austrian politics, Count Rechberg, and in winning him for his immediate plans. Instead of the federal troops that had meanwhile marched into Slesvig-Holstein, Prussia and Austria made war on Denmark, which soon succumbed, and was compelled to cede Slesvig-Holstein and Lauenburg to Prussia and Austria in the treaty of peace. Austria ultimately made a good bargain with Prussia by selling its share in Lauenburg to Prussia for two and a half million dollars. This war was carried on by Bismarck against the will of the state legislature, which had refused to vote the demanded war loan by a majority of 275 against 80. It is easy to understand that this mode of governing did not fortify the sentiment in favor of Prussia, and the dissatisfaction was increased still more in the remainder of Germany, when after long negotiations between Prussia and Austria, the treaty of Gastein, of August 14, 1865, was made public, by which Prussia assumed the administration of Slesvig and Austria that of Holstein. This was the second master stroke of Bismarck, who thereby drove the wedge between Austria and the federation deeper and deeper. On the other hand, the world now witnessed the amusing spectacle that in Slesvig the Prussians, under Manteuffel, ruthlessly suppressed all demonstrations in favor of the Augustenburger, and altogether ruled with a hard hand, while in Holstein, the Austrians, under General Gablenz, let things take their course freely. How Gablenz interpreted his mission may be seen from his statement: “I shall obey the existing laws of the land, in order that no Holsteinian may be able to say, after my eventual departure, that I ruled lawlessly. I do not wish to rule this land like a Turkish pasha.” That was a moral slap at Mr. von Manteuffel.

That the new order could be but a provisional one in the duchies was evident. This solution did not solve the question. The settlement between Prussia and Austria was inevitable before long, and in Bismarck’s opinion, this could be decided only by a war, after all other expedients had been eliminated. So he worked systematically towards thin war. On the one side, he tried to win Napoleon’s neutrality by dilatory negotiations, as he later called them, in which he made tentative promises of ceding certain German provinces to France, mentioning the Rhine Palatinate and the Prussian Saar region, and on the other hand, he made an agreement with Italy to the effect that this country should attack Austria in the South as soon as Prussia should strike the first blow in the North. The negotiations with the Italian diplomats, which the Italian Prime Minister, La Marmora, later published in his book, “More Light,” are typical instances of the way in which Bismarck tried to enforce his “national” policies. In March, Bismarck remarked to the extraordinary military plenipotentiary of Italy in Berlin that the king had given up his over-timid legitimate scruples. He had been reluctant to ally himself with Italy, which had become great by crown robberies and annexations, and he did not want to make war on Austria for legitimist reasons. In a few months, so Bismarck continued, he would bring up the question of German reform, embellished by a parliament, thereby creating confusion, which would bring Prussia into conflict with Austria, and then war would be declared between them.

This program was promptly executed.

On June 3d, the Italian ambassador in Berlin, Govone, reported to his government that Bismarck had said to him: “I am far less a German than a Prussian, and I should not hesitate to agree to the cession of the entire country between the Rhine and the Mosel to France: the Palatinate, Oldenburg, a portion of the Prussian territory... But he had trouble with the king, who had the religious, or even superstitious scruple, that he must not assume the responsibility for a European war.”

I shall not dwell in detail upon the underhanded intrigues which Bismarck carried on in Italy, for the purpose of weakening Austria by stirring up revolutionary uprisings in Hungary and Croatia, and detaching the armed forces of those countries from the Austrian army. These transactions show that even treasonable enterprises suited Bismarck so long as they promoted his aims, and that high treason is a crime only when it is committed by men of the oppressed classes. Prussia and Italy came to an understanding that they would share in the expenses of these revolutionary uprisings. Needless to say that Austria now recognized its situation, and took measures to defend itself. Toward the end of March the diplomatic play became lively. Reproaches were bandied back and forth and preparations for war were made. On April 9th, Prussia introduced its demand for federal reform in Frankfort-on-Main. It moved that the federal parliament adopt a resolution to call, on a certain date, a national convention, composed of representatives of the entire nation, elected by direct ballot and universal suffrage. In the meantime, until this parliament could convene, the governments were to agree among themselves on the bills for a reform of the federal constitution.

This reform proposal naturally met with intense distrust in wide circles. People said to themselves: “How is it that Bismarck declares in favor of a German parliament, elected by universal and direct suffrage, and pretends to be a radical reformer, when he is ruling Prussia in violation of the clear statements of the constitution, when he is responsible for the infamous press ordinances, for the war against Denmark, in spite of the opposition of the state legislature, for the recent decision of the Supreme Court on paragraph 84 of the constitution, referring to the free speech of legislative representatives, and for many other villainies?” The opposition shown against the Prussian reform bill elicited from the “Kreuzzeitung” the remark, in April, that only one alternative remained: Federal reform or revolution. In reality, Bismarck was not serious about his proposal of a universal German parliament, as was proved later by his parliamentarian proposal to the federal convention. But he did not even think of taking into the union the southwestern German states, as was discovered later, when the question of the formation of the North German federation came up.

This was amply corroborated by the memoirs of Prince Hohenlohe. Bismarck, at that time, regarded the vast majority of the South Germans as heterogeneous elements that would disturb his circles. His misgivings were not laid to rest until the elections to the revenue parliament had taken place, and until the war of 1870-71 had been supported by South Germany.

The procedure of Bismarck, in the Slesvig-Holsteinian and the German question, had a disintegrating influence on the Liberals; they were split into two camps. One camp sympathized with his policy, the other could not forgive him for his internal interference in Prussia and opposed him. Twesten wrote, in the beginning of October, 1865, to the chairman of the committee of thirty-six: “We (he spoke in the name of several men, then) prefer any alternative to a defeat of the Prussian state.” In other words: If Prussia should win in the struggle for supremacy in Germany, even by the help of a foreign power, and by ceding some German territory, we shall stand by Prussia. That was identical with Bismarck’s: “I am more a Prussian than a German.” Mommsen said that the differences in the questions of liberty were no reason to withhold support from Bismarck on questions of foreign policy. And Ziegler, who refused to pay taxes in 1848, and had been charged with high treason, sentenced to imprisonment in a fortress, removed from his position as first mayor of Brandenburg, declared shortly before the outbreak of the war to his Breslau electors: “The heart of the Prussian democracy is where the flags of the state are waving.” Ziegler was a queer man. A few months before this, he had thrown a drastic quotation from Marrast at the heads of his party colleagues, by telling them: “Perverseness has risen from your bowels to your brains. You cannot think any more.”

The National Club, in its way, also tried to come to the support of Bismarck’s policies by calling a general meeting to Frankfort-on-Main, at the close of October, 1865. But the club received no thanks for this. Bismarck was so angered by this intention that he induced the Austrian government to join him in sending a note to the Frankfort senate, in which both demanded that this general meeting be prohibited, a step which could be taken only by a man who was no longer master of his nerves. The senate declined also this demand, and the general meeting took place. The resolutions declared:

“The National Club confirms its former resolutions, according to which it is striving to establish a central power and a parliament with the national constitution of 1849, the central power to be in the hands of Prussia. It demands autonomy for Slesvig-Holstein, with this limitation, that so long as no central power exists, the attributes belonging to a central power shall be transferred to Prussia. A state legislature of the duchies shall be called.” After a heated debate, these points were adopted by a large majority. Evidently these resolutions indicated a willingness to meet Prussia half way. Farther than that, the National Club could not go for the present.

When the possibility of a war between Austria and Prussia became more and more imminent, the efforts of the Liberals were directed toward the end of enforcing the neutrality of the small and medium-sized states, for they said to themselves that the large majority of them would take sides with Austria in case of a war.

In Saxony, the Liberals even turned the tables, and made the Saxon government responsible for the eventual outbreak of a war; they demanded disarmament and an alliance with Prussia. The Leipsic city authorities endorsed this demand by a resolution on May 5th. Against this attitude, a public meeting of 5,000 people protested. It had been called by Professor Wuttke and his close political friends, assisted by the Lassallean Fritzsche and others. It was called for May 8th, and we joined in the call. The Lassallean Steinert presided. Wuttke made the first speech. He protested against the step of the city senate and city councilors, and offered a resolution demanding that the government extend its measures of defense and introduce universal popular armament for the protection of the country. The government was asked, furthermore, to secure the help of its allies as soon as possible and to oppose steadfastly every privileged position of Prussia in Slesvig-Holstein and in the remainder or Germany.

This resolution was too weak for our taste. So I took the floor, and spoke in favor of the following resolution, drawn up by Liebknecht and myself:

1) the present threatening situation in Germany has been provoked by the attitude and the steps of the Prussian government in the Slesvig-Holsteinian question, and it is at the same time the natural result of the policy of the National Club and of the Gotha leaders, in favor of Prussian supremacy. (2) We consider a direct or indirect support of this anti-German policy as an injury to the interests of the German people. (3) These interests can he protected only by a parliament elected by universal, direct and equal suffrage with secret ballots, supported by a universally armed nation. (4) We expect that the German people will elect only those men as their representatives who are opposed to any hereditary central power. (5) We expect that, in case of a war between German brothers, which can serve only to gamble German territory into the hands of a foreign power, the German people will rise as one man in order to defend their property and honor by force of arms.The chairman of the city council, Dr. Joseph, attempted to justify the city senate and city council, but he received sharp replies from Liebknecht and Fritzsche. Wuttke’s resolution was adopted against a minority, mine unanimously.

The Liberal press of Leipsic published the most lying statements concerning this meeting, and thereby angered the workers in the shop of Giesecke & Devrient so much that they solemnly burned the offending number of the “Mitteldeutsche Volkszeitung.” The Leipsic example found many imitators. Among others, the labor convention of the district federation of the Main region, which met on May 13th, under Professor Louis Buechner as chairman, expressed itself in the same sense.

Under these circumstances, the committee of thirty-six of the convention of representatives felt the need of hastening to the aid of Prussia. They called a convention of representatives to Frankfort-on- Main, to be held on the first Sunday of Pentecost. The democracy of Frankfort decided to arrange a counter-demonstration for the same day, and Wuttke and myself were invited to be present from Saxony. The convention of representatives was attended by about 250 delegates, and was opened by the chairman of the committee of thirty-six. Mr. von Bennigsen became president. Among those present was also Blunschli, who had a bad reputation on account of his action against Weitling, in Switzerland, during the forties. The old Privy Counselor, Welcker, was also present. Altho he favored the leadership of Prussia, he was so embittered by Bismarck’s policy, that, as the papers reported at that time, he had posed the queer prize puzzle: “How can a bad government be removed without a revolution?” It was another version of the old question: “How can a skin be washed without getting it wet?”

Among the audience at the proceedings were also the veterans of ‘48, Amand, Goegg, August Ladendorf and Gustav Struve. The latter was a spare, tall figure with a piping voice and a peculiarly red nose, altho he was an opponent of alcoholism. I had had a different conception of the former leader of the revolution in Baden, but discovered soon that I had the same experience with Strove that others had with me, whom they had imagined different from my real self.

Dr. Voelck, of Augsburg, who later received the nickname of the spring lark, because he jubilantly announced in the revenue parliament that spring would soon come in Germany, was one of the reporters of the convention. He spoke in favor of the following resolution of the majority of the committee of thirty-six:“The victory of our arms has restored our northern boundaries to us. Such a victory would have elevated the national spirit in every well ordered state. But in Prussia, thru the disrespect shown for the rights of the reconquered provinces, thru the effort of the Prussian government to annex them by force, and thru the fatal jealousy of the two great powers, it has led to a conflict that reaches far beyond the original object of the dispute.

“We condemn the imminent war as a cabinet enterprise, serving merely dynastic ends. It is unworthy of a civilized nation, threatens all achievements of fifty years of peace, and adds fuel to the greed of foreign countries.

“Princes and ministers who will be responsible for this unnatural war, or who increase its dangers for the sake of special interests, will be guilty of a grave crime against the nation.

“The curse and the punishment for high treason shall strike those who will give up German territory in their negotiations with foreign powers...

“If it should not be possible to prevent this war, in the eleventh hour, thru the expression of the unanimous will of the people, we should at least strive to prevent that Germany be divided into two great camps by limiting this war to the smallest space.

“This seems to us the most effective means of hastening the re-establishment of peace, keeping off the intervention of foreign powers, protecting the frontiers by the armed forces of the neutral states and, in case that this war should assume a European character, meeting the enemy outside with fresh forces.

“These states, then, are in duty bound, so long as their position is respected, not to plunge without necessity into the war between the two great powers. Particularly the states of the south-western group should keep their forces unweakened, in order to stand up in case of need for the integrity of the German territory.

“It shall be the duty of the state legislatures, when deciding on demands for military purposes, to ask such guarantees from their governments as will insure the employment of such grants in the above-mentioned direction, and in the true interest of the fatherland. Only in this way can the danger be averted, of making way for a new era of general reaction in Germany under the present complicated circumstances.

“Just as a German parliament is the only authority that can decide on the German interests in Slesvig-Holstein, so the settlement of the German constitutional question by a freely elected German representation of the people will alone be able to prevent the return of such fatal conditions effectively. Consequently, all state legislatures, and the entire nation, should demand the immediate calling of a parliament, elected according to the national election law of April 14, 1849.”

The salient points of this resolution lay in paragraphs 5, 6 and 7, which demanded guarantees for the neutrality of the medium-sized and small states. The Prussian representative, Julius Freese, took issue with the resolution of the committee and with the speakers that had defended it, and his speech was so effective that he was frequently interrupted by the stormy applause of the minority and of the audience in the hall. Concerning the role assigned to the medium sized and small states, he said:

“And what would be the result, if the two states had now taken hold of each other? Just as two bucks fight for the possession of a doe, while the doe looks on unarmed and quiet, so Austria and Prussia are to fight with each other, and the third Germany is supposed to be the mild and gentle doe that waits to see who will claim her as a winner at the end of the battle.” ... And he closed with the words: “Only then shall Prussia become free, when it shall enter the service of Germany; but if you permit Germany to be absorbed by Greater Prussia, then may God have mercy on those who live to see the rule that shall come over Prussia and Germany.”

These words called forth great applause, lasting a long time.

But the tragic was also relieved by the comic. In the midst of Voelck’s speech, several cannon shots rang thru the hall, so that every one jumped up in alarm and looked up at the ceiling, fearing it would fall down. Voelck himself seemed to think that an assault was planned against him. With a mighty leap he jumped back from the platform to the wall, accompanied by the loud hooting and hand-clapping of the top galleries. The Lassalleans of Frankfort and Offenbach had set off some cannon crackers, led by Oberwinder, in order to hand in their visiting card to the convention of representatives in this manner. The fright was followed by general merriment.

As a matter of course, the resolutions of the committee were adopted by a large majority against the motion of Mueller-Passavant.

In the afternoon of the same day, a public meeting, called by the democratic side, took place in the Circus, attended by about 3000 people. Among other speakers, I also took the floor.

In the resolutions offered by us, the following demands were made:

“(1) Armed resistance against the Prussian policy of breaking the peace, neutrality would be cowardice or treason. (2) Slesvig-Holstein shall have autonomy on the basis of the existing laws. (3) The Prussian parliamentarian proposal must be unconditionally declined, in its stead a constitutional people’s parliament, clad with the necessary powers, shall decide upon the constitution of all Germany. (4) Introduction of fundamental rights and legal inauguration of popular armament. (5) The people should get together everywhere in political clubs.”

After the adoption of these resolutions, a committee was elected and instructed to work out a program, and call a meeting of delegates to Frankfort, in order to discuss the program thoroly. The following were elected members of this committee, at the suggestion of Haussmann of Stuttgart, the father of the Reichstag member, Conrad Haussmann: Bebel, Eichelsdoerfer of Mannheim, Goegg of Offenburg, K. Gruen of Heidelberg, Kolb of Speier, K. Mayer of Stuttgart, Dr. Morgenstern of Fuerth, von Neergardt of Kiel, August Roeckel and Gustav Struve of Frankfort, Trabert of Hanau, Kraemer of Doos, Bavaria. Of these twelve, I am the only survivor. True, I was the Benjamin of that body.

The committee prepared the following program:

“(A. 1) A democratic basis for the constitution and administration of the German states. (2) A federal union, based upon autonomy. (3) Installation of a federal power and popular parliament superior to the governments of the individual states. Neither Prussian nor Austrian supremacy.

“(B. 1) We demand the preservation of peace in Germany. The danger of war arose out of the Slesvig-Holstenian question; it can be removed only by the immediate inauguration of state autonomy in those duchies on the basis of law and popular will. Slesvig-Holstein’s voice in the federation should be admitted at once, its military power must be mobilized INTO disposition to be made of the duchies against the will of their population; no division of Slesvig. (2) The resistance of Germany is justified against the war policy of Prussia. Neutrality would be cowardice or treason. (3) Not a foot of German soil shall be ceded to any foreign country. The danger of losing German territory, and the shame of an intervention of foreign powers in German internal affairs, can be averted, resistance can be successful, the danger of an Austrian victory can be avoided only if the allies, in their struggle, follow a national, instead of dynastic, policy, and base their union upon the full armed power and the parliamentarian co-operation of the people. The legal introduction of the militia system must be demanded above all things. (4) The parliamentarian proposal of Prussia must be rejected. Only a national parliament, arising from the people and elected in full liberty, equipped with a deciding voice and with the necessary power, can definitely settle the question of the national constitution.”

The calling of a delegates’ convention, to whom this program was to be submitted, had to be abandoned, because the war broke out in the meantime. The committee thereupon issued the following proclamation:

“To the German People!

“The war between German brothers has been ignited. Germany has been hurled back into the time of the brutal law of force. This gravest of crimes against the nation falls on the shoulders of that party in Prussia, which is so lost to all justice, that it wants to cap the climax by outraging all Germany after it has broken the popular law of Prussia and of Slesvig-Holstein. At the moment, when the future of Slesvig-Holstein as a state should at last have been decided by the peaceful way of German law, this party has gone to the extreme of breaking the eternal bond of the German tribes, and of pushing the enforced will of the individual into the place of public right and of the collective will. It has invaded the German countries of Hannover, Hessia, Saxony, as tho they were the land of the enemy, and it threatens with the same force all German states that will not submit to it. In Prussia itself, this party incites the people to a hatred of Germany, and speaks of imaginary dangers, of humiliations, degradations, dismemberment, which are supposed to be visited against it by Germany.

“For the present, Prussia is not in danger of any degradation, except such as it harbors in itself. The downfall of the war party would be the best victory for Prussia. The danger of dismemberment has been brought over all of Germany precisely by that party. By its alliance with Italy, it has endangered German territory in the South. In the West it has conjured up the old danger which is always threatening whenever Germany is disunited.

“The German tribes, whom the policy of force of the Berlin government has called to arms against itself, do not war against the people of Prussia, do not take the field for the policies of the house of Habsburg. The nation cares as little to serve Austria as it does to serve Prussia. It wishes to be free, to be master of its own house. Having been implicated in the present disaster against its will, the nation must not, and will not, await inactively the consequences. Just as it has declined, in response to the correct prompting of its patriotism, to play the offered role of a neutral power in this fratricidal war, so it now has the duty of securing, with its full power and unanimous determination, its participation in the decision of its fates by means of a general armament of the people and a common people’s parliament.

“These two demands should at once occupy the attention of the German people everywhere. A general agitation in public meetings should be inaugurated without delay. The German people alone can still save the German fatherland. Frankfort, July 1, 1866. The Committee of the Public Meeting in Frankfort, on May 20th, per G.F. Kolb, Aug. Roeckel.”

This proclamation was well meant, but it came too late. The only thing that could have given it effective backing, namely, a great and compact organization, was missing.On the day following the above mentioned events in Frankfort, the second holiday of Pentecost, I was invited to dinner at the house of Siegmund Mueller, together with a number of other gentlemen. After dinner, we stepped to the wide-open windows, in order to enjoy the magnificent May day. As tho the word had been given, we simultaneously burst into Homeric laughter. From Mueller’s house, we had a view of the old Main river and the old Main bridge, upon which crowds of Austrian soldiers, in their white uniforms, were promenading back and forth, nearly every one arm in arm with a girl. This had stirred our mirth. Our host looked upon this matter more seriously, and said: “Gentlemen, it’s all right for you to laugh, but the girls will all get babies, and the city will have to support them.” We replied by another round of laughter. A short time after that, on June 10th, the Prussians belonging to the federal garrison of Frankfort left the city, amid martial music, and on June 11th, the Austrians followed suit. The Austrians never came back. Many a one of the merry boys who frolicked across the Main bridge on that memorable Sunday no doubt fertilized the battle field with his blood a little later.

On June 10th, the permanent committee of the workingmen’s clubs met in session in Mannheim, for the purpose of defining its position towards the prevailing political conflict. With the exception of M. Hirsch, the entire committee was present, and Streit of Coburg attended in response to a special invitation.

An excited discussion arose over the German question. A Prussian member denied that the Prussian people harbored any sympathies for annexations. In this he was thoroly mistaken, as events proved. The vast majority of the committee was opposed to any neutrality of the middle states. One side argued that Prussian leadership would promote industrial development, the other side contended that Prussian leadership was not needed to that end. Finally, it was unanimously decided to affiliate with the existing people’s party and endorse the program of the Frankfort committee. It was also recommended that the following compromise motion be incorporated in the program of the people’s party: “Every popular government must seek to promote the gradual elimination of class antagonisms; to the extent that a respect for individual freedom, and for the collective interests of the people, will permit. The material and moral uplift of the laboring estate is to the common interest of all classes, is an indispensable pillar of civic freedom.”

In view of the fact that the political disturbances had already caused much unemployment, it was agreed to send a request to the employers for a corresponding reduction of the hours of labor during the period of depression, instead of discharging employees. The state and municipal authorities were asked to continue the construction work inaugurated by them, and to carry out construction that had already been planned. The financial report was discouraging, and so was the report concerning the condition of the “Arbeiterzeitung.” Its subscription list had been considerably reduced by the prohibition of the paper in Prussia, by political differences in many clubs, by the animosities and obstacles leveled against the paper by the publishers’ association. And the passive resistance maintained by some members of our committee against Streit and his paper prevented us from supporting him effectively. Streit saw himself compelled to stop publication on August 8th.

My repeated motions, aiming at reorganization, were again defeated, but, on the other hand, it was decided to allow the chairman a fixed salary of $200.00 per year as a compensation of his work. The place for the next national convention also was a subject for discussion, and Chenmitz or Gera were taken under advisement. But the course of events compelled us to abandon a national convention for 1866. The proceedings were then interrupted for a few hours, in order to hold a public meeting, which occupied itself with the prevailing political events that were of paramount interest.

From then on events crowded each other and hastened toward a catastrophe. On May 9th, Bismarck had dissolved the legislature, in order that he might not be hampered in his political steps by its opposition. On the other hand, the middle states called their legislatures together. On June 1st, Austria referred the question of Slesvig-Holstein to the Federal parliament. It had realized, too late, that it had made a mistake when it permitted itself to be taken in tow by Prussia. Two days later, on June 3d, Prussia proclaimed fact that this step of Austria had canceled the Gastein treaty. On June 11th, Prussia dissolved, by military force, the assembly of the Holsteinian estates, called together at Itzehoe. Thereupon the Austrians evacuated Holstein on June 12th. On the same day, Austria recalled its ambassador from Berlin, and issued passports to the Prussian ambassador in Vienna. On June 14th, the Federal parliament decided against Prussia, whereupon the Prussian ambassador placed on the table of the parliament a draft of the constitution for a new federation. Its first article read as follows: “The territory of the federation consists of the states hitherto belonging to it, with the exception of the Imperial Austrian end the Royal Hollandish regions (Luxemburg and Limburg).”

In other words, Smaller Germany. The war was declared. Contrary to the expectations of many, it took a remarkably favorable course for Prussia. Within a few weeks the Austrian army was thrown out of all its positions in Bohemia, and the Prussians stood in front of the gates of Vienna. The armies of the middle states played a pitiful role, with the exception of the Saxon, which fought in Bohemia, and of the Hannoverians, who succumbed to the Prussians at Langensalza after a stubborn resistance. Their opposition was broken down before it came to a battle with them. In Italy, the war developed a little differently. Bismarck was at first a little doubtful whether Italy would carry on a war against Austria seriously. In a telegram of June 13th, addressed to the Prussian ambassador, von Usedom, he recommended to demand energetically that the Italian government should come to an understanding with the Hungarian committee. A refusal of La Marmora to do so might cause Prussia to suspect that Italy did not intend to carry on a serious war against Austria. The ambassador should inform Italy that Prussia would begin hostilities next week. But a fruitless war, in the fortified Square of Italy, [A] would give rise to suspicions. On June 17th, von Usedom sent a long telegram to La Marmora, in which he made suggestions concerning the conduct of the war in the name of his government. The war should be pushed to the point of annihilation of the enemy. Without regard to the future boundaries of their territories, both powers should seek to make this war decisive, final, complete and irrevocable. Italy should not be content to penetrate merely to the northern frontier of Venetia. It should meet Prussia in the center of the Austrian monarchy. In order to secure for itself the permanent possession of Venetia, it should strike the Austrian monarchy to the heart.

This was the famous “strike to the heart” telegram which created such great excitement when it became known in 1868. But things went differently. Not the Italians, but the Austrians, were victorious. The Italians were beaten ashore in the battle of Custozza, and at sea in the naval battle of Lissa. In spite of these victories, Austria ceded Venetia to Napoleon, and not to Italy, because matters were in bad shape in the northern part of the Austrian monarchy. Austria hoped to secure the intervention of Napoleon. This new situation induced Bismarck, in spite of the great dissatisfaction which he created in the Prussian headquarters, to grant an armistice to Austria, which was concluded in Nickolsburg; and which led to peace preliminaries at its close, on July 27th. In the final peace treaty, concluded in Prague, Prussia received Slesvig-Holstein, Hannover, Nassau, Hessia and Frankfort. Austria escaped with a moderate war indemnity. Political reasons induced Bismarck to treat Austria mildly. The Southwestern German states were to form their own federation. Venetia was ceded by Napoleon to Italy.

That Austria should have ceded Venetia to Napoleon created a great storm of indignation among the German Liberals. They called this treason. This charge struck Prussia as well as Austria. It was kept secret as much as possible that Prussia had allied itself with a foreign power, Italy, for the purpose of annihilating a German state, and that Bismarck had communicated with Klapka for the purpose of raising a rebellion in Hungary. As a revolt Klapka had issued the following proclamation:

“To the Hungarian Soldiers:

“By virtue of the confidence of my fellow-citizens, I assume command of the entire armed forces of Hungary; I speak to you as your leader.

“Prussia’s and Italy’s mighty kings are our allies. Garibaldi is hastening this way from Italy, Tuerr from the Danube, Bethlen from Sevenburgen, in order to free the fatherland; from here I am leading the brave Hungarian band into the country. Louis Kossuth will be with us. Thus united, we shall chase the Austrians, who robbed us of our possessions and our liberty, out of the country. We shall reconquer what is ours: the soil of Arpad. In the years of 1848 and 1849, we earned eternal fame, and now the wreath of laurel and of victory awaits us, if we liberate the fatherland. Forward, then, follow the Hungarian banner! Our fatherland’s sacred soil is but a few days distant, thither I shall lead you. Come home, then, where mother, sister and sweetheart are waiting for you with open arms. Choose! Do you want to remain miserable prisoners, or become glorious defenders of the fatherland?

“Long live the fatherland!

“Klapka, M. P., Hungarian General.”

Neither did the spokesmen in Prussia care to dwell upon the recollection of the fact that the Prussian army headquarters, when invading Bohemia, had published a proclamation: “To the Inhabitants of the Glorious Kingdom of Bohemia,” containing such passages as the following:

“Should our just cause win, then the time may come also, in Bohemia and Moravia, when they shall be able to realize their national desires the same as Hungary. May a lucky star then assure their fortunes forever!”

It was the old song of measuring by two different standards. If two do the same thing, it is not the same. If Prussia committed the greatest villainies - and the proceedings in Bohemia and Hungary certainly could not be considered as a loyal warfare - they were excused, or even justified. But woe to the opponents who imitated its example. For instance, what would the Prussian government say, if some foreign power should some day invade the province of Posen and issue a similar proclamation as that of the Prussians in Bohemia?

Treason on a large scale, such as was promoted in Austrian countries, was accompanied by treason on a small scale in Germany. In the beginning of August, 1866, the Saxon Liberals decided, under the leadership of Professor Bedermann, Dr. Hans Blum, etc., to adopt a resolution at a state convention in Leipsic, containing the following passages: “We consider that the German and Saxon interests are best preserved by the incorporation of Saxony in Prussia.” Still more emphatically did Mr. von Treitschke, a born Saxon, express himself, when, in his capacity as editor of the “Prussian Annals,” he called upon Bismarck to annihilate the opposing states, Saxony, Hannover, Hessia:

“Those three dynasties are ripe, over-ripe, for their merited annihilation. Their re-establishment would be a danger to the security of the new German federation, a sin against the morals of the nation.... Next to the house of Hapsburg, no other line of princes has for centuries commuted graver crimes against the German nation than the house of Albertines ... King John is no doubt the most worthy of respect among the exiled princes of Germany, but with a large fund of learning, he has remained an ordinary man, narrow of heart, unfree, a philistine in his judgment of the world and the times. The crown-prince, a man who is not without a rough good-nature, but withal crude and without political understanding, was ever a pillar of the Austrian party, and still less is to be expected from Prince George, whose arrogance and bigotry cause resentment even in tame Dresden.... Above all, we fear that a restoration will demoralize the people by the spirit of lying, by the pretense of a loyalty which the younger generation can no longer feel after the events of this summer. Imagine the scene of King John entering his capital, of the ever faithful city fathers of Dresden receiving the spoiler of his country with words of thanks and veneration, of white and green robed young women wearing evergreen wreaths and bowing before this sullied and desecrated crown - verily, the mere thought is nauseating.”

And he closed with the words: “In days like these, men should have the heart to disregard the paragraphs of the Albertinian penal code.... We do not wish that a house, condemned by God and men, should return to the throne.”

Bismarck saw to it that his fiery worshippers were not hurt. In Article 19 of the peace treaty, the King of Saxony had to guarantee that “none of his subjects, or whoever may be subject to the laws of Saxony, shall be called to account by process of law, or by the police, or by disciplinary measures, or shall in any way be curtailed in his honorable rights, on account of any crime or misdemeanor committed with reference to the relations between Prussia and Saxony during the time of war against the person of His Majesty, or on account of high treason, or treason against the state, or, finally, on account of his political attitude during that period.”

Liebknecht and myself have often been asked, later on, what would have happened if Prussia had been defeated by Austria. It was a sad fact that, under the conditions prevailing at that time, only this alternative remained, so that taking sides against one was construed as taking sides for the other. But that was the condition. My opinion is that a nation existing in an unfree state may be furthered, rather than held back, by a defeat in war. Victories make a government that stands above the people arrogant and exacting, defeats compel it to approach the people and to win their sympathy. This is taught in the case of Prussia by 1806-07, for Austria by 1866, for France by 1870, by the defeat of Russia in the war with Japan in 1904. The Russian revolution would not have occurred without that defeat, it would have been made impossible for many years by a victory of Tsarism. On the other hand, history shows that when the Prussian nation had overthrown the rule of Napoleon by immense sacrifices of wealth and blood, and saved the dynasty from a bad plight, the rescued princes forgot all their beautiful promises which they had made in the hour of danger to their people. After a long period of reaction, it required the year 1848 to recover for the people what the princes had withheld from them for decades. And think of the way in which Bismarck later rejected every truly Liberal demand in the North German Reichstag! He behaved like a dictator.

If Prussia had been defeated in 1866, Bismarck’s ministry, and the rule of the aristocracy, which weighs like a nightmare upon Germany to this day, would have been swept away. No one knew this better than Bismarck. The Austrian government would never have become so strong after a victory as Prussia did. Austria was, and is, by its whole structure, an internally weak state, differing from Prussia. But the government of a strong state is more dangerous to its democratic development. No democratic state has a so-called strong government. It is powerless against the people. Most probably the Austrian government, after its victory, would have attempted to rule Germany in a reactionary way. But in that case, it would have had not merely the entire Prussian people against itself, but also the greater portion of the remainder of the nation, including a goodly part of the Austrian population. If any revolution was certain and assured of success, it would have been one against Austria. The democratic unification of the empire would have been the result. The victory of Prussia precluded that. And still another thing. The exclusion of German Austria from the national community - not to mention the abandoning of Luxemburg - condemned ten millions of Germans to an almost hopeless condition. Our “patriots” fall into national ravings when some German is maltreated somewhere in a foreign country, but they do not resent the assassination of the culture of ten millions of Germans in Austria.

By the way, similar discussions had taken place among our great men a few years before 1866, as I was informed later.

In a letter to Lassalle, dated January 19th, 1862, Lothar Bucher wrote (two years before he entered the service of Bismarck) concerning the eventuality of a war with France, in which Prussia might win: “A victory of the soldiery, which means of the Prussian government, would be an evil.”

About the middle of June, 1859, Lassalle wrote to Marx: “Only in a popular war against France ... do I see misfortune. But a war that is unpopular with the nation is immensely fortunate for the revolution....” Lassalle went still farther and elaborated his idea: “A defeat of France would be the event for the counter-revolution for a long time to come. Matters are still in such a shape that France, despite all Napoleons, represents the revolution compared to the rest of Europe, and a defeat of France the downfall of the revolution.” At the end of March, 1860, Lassalle also wrote to Engels: “Only for the sake of preventing misunderstanding, I must remark that I desired very much, even last year, when I wrote my pamphlets (“On the Italian War”), that Prussia should start a war against Napoleon. But I desired it only on condition that the war be made by the government, that it be as unpopular and hated by the people as possible. In that case it would, indeed, be a great windfall (for the revolution.)” (1)

In his speech, entitled “What Next?” which Lassalle made in October, 1862, he says, in the first edition, on pages 33 and 34: “Finally, the existence of the Germans is not so precarious that a defeat of their governments would imply a real danger for the existence of the nation. If you, gentlemen, read history carefully, and with an understanding of its inner workings, then you will see that the labors of civilization which our nation has performed are so gigantic and enormous, so record-breaking and leading the way for the rest of Europe, that no doubts can arise as to the necessity and impregnability of our national existence. If we should become involved in a great external war, then our various governments, the Saxon, Prussian, Bavarian, might break down, but, like a phoenix out of its ashes, would arise indestructibly what is alone essential to all of us - The German Nation.”

The outcome of the war seemed to throw an unexpected success into our lap. One day, Liebknecht appeared, full of joy, in my shop, and informed me that he had bought the “Middle German People’s Paper” [Mitteldeutsche Volkszeitung], which the Liberals had abandoned, because the deficit of the paper had become larger from day to day. The subscription list of the paper had dropped from 2800 to 1200. I was scared by this news, for we didn’t have a penny of cash, and it was quite out of the question that we could put the paper on its feet under the prevailing conditions. Moreover, we had to take the Prussian army of occupation into consideration. Liebknecht tried to console me. The publisher did not ask for any money for the time being, and what we would need in other respects, we could provide for. He was happy to be the possessor of a paper, to which he could voice his views. And this he did so valiantly that one would have thought he was master of the country instead of the Prussians. Of course, the fun did not last long. The paper was suppressed. I was not angry over this event, altho I took good care not to tell him so. We were rescued from a great embarrassment, for the daring plan which we had concocted, to place 5000 shares of one dollar each in the German workingmen’s clubs, would have met with a great failure.


[A] “in the fortified Square of Italy” is a reference by the translator to “the Quadrilateral,” the four great Austrian fortresses on the Venetian-Lombardy border. [Note by the transcriber ERC]

1. Letters of Ferdinand Lassalle to Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. Stuttgart, 1902.


Next: After the War