August Bebel

Reminiscences


After the War

The result of the war was the creation of the North German federation, in which the giant Prussia took the lead among a lot of political pigmies. Since the inauguration of a North German Reichstag, on the basis of universal suffrage was now in prospect, a more solid political organization became necessary for us, also a program around which the new party could rally. That this program should be frankly Social-Democratic was out of the question, in view of the position taken by a portion of its leading elements, such as Professor Rossmaessler and others. Moreover, a portion of the workingmen’s clubs was politically too backward to permit our risking such a step. It would have led to a split, and this we had to avoid at this stage of the development. Finally, we were also influenced by the consideration that it would be necessary to combine all forces for a democratization of Germany, so long as vast portions of the bourgeoisie were dominated by such sentiments as prevailed on account of the recent military events, and the partition of Germany into three parts.

We called a state convention to Chemnitz, on August 19th, in which participated also members of the General Association of German Workingmen (Fritzsche, Foersterling, Noething and others), in order to found the new democratic party. The adopted program was as follows:

“Demands of the Democracy.

“(1) Unlimited autonomy of the people. Universal, equal and direct suffrage, with secret ballots in all fields of political life (parliament, the legislatures of individual states, the municipalities, etc.). Popular armament, instead of a standing army. A parliament equipped with the greatest possible authority, which shall have to decide particularly about peace and war.

“(2) Unification of Germany in a democratic form of the state. No hereditary central power. No Small Germany under Prussian leadership, no Greater Germany under Austrian leadership. No Trias. Such dynastic and particularist aims and others like them, which lead to loss of liberty, disunion and the rule of a foreign power, must be energetically combatted by the democratic party.

“(3) Abolition of privileges of estate, birth and confession.

“(4) Improvement of the physical, intellectual and moral culture of the people. Separation of the school from the church and of the state from the church, amelioration of the teachers’ institutes, and a dignified position of the teachers, establishment of the public school as a state institution, with free tuition, maintained by state funds. Creation of funds and foundation of institutes for the higher education of those who have graduated from public school.

“(5) Promotion of the general welfare and emancipation of labor and of the laborers from every oppression and every handicap. Improvement of the condition of the working class, freedom of migration, freedom of occupation, universal German citizenship, promotion and support of co-operatives, especially of co-operatives of production, in order that the antagonism between capital and labor be abolished.

“(6) Autonomy of the communes.

“(7) Uplift of the popular consciousness of rights, by the independence of the courts, juries, particularly in political and press cases; public and oral court procedure.

“(8) Promotion of the political and social culture of the people by means of a free press, free right of assembly and association, right of coalition.

This program left nothing to desire in the way of outspoken determination. The members of the General Association of German Workingmen had also assented to it, but they were induced by von Schweitzer to keep aloof from the formation of the new party. Rossmaessler was also suspicious and dissatisfied, for the social demands went too far for him, and he discovered the Socialist hoof in the program. When I visited him shortly after the state convention, he did not conceal his dissatisfaction. He thought he should warn me emphatically against Liebknecht, whom he called a dangerous man and a disguised Communist. I tried to pacify him, but could not prevent his meeting many a disappointment up to his death, in the following spring. For instance, it hurt him, when he declined to accept a candidacy for the Reichstag in Leipsic, that his personal opponent, Wuttke, was nominated in his stead. Rosmaessler had the queer idea that the parliament of 1849 still existed by right and that Loewe-Calve, who had been the last president of that parliament, and who loved to hear himself called the last president of the first German parliament, should call it together. As a matter of fact, Loewe-Calve had declared a few years previously at a convention of representatives that he considered himself as the legitimate heir of the parliament of 1849 and that he would eventually call it together again. But he took good care later on not to make himself so ridiculous.

On November 7, 1866, the chairman of the permanent committee, Staudinger, published a leaflet, in which he expressed himself on the changes which had taken place in Germany in the meantime. This leaflet subjected the situation, created by the peace treaty of Prague, to a dissenting critique. He said that little was to be expected for popular liberty and popular rights, but that, on the other hand, the system of standing armies was fixed for many years to come, at least in the North of Germany. Less than ever was any reduction of the state expenditures, or any reduction or abolition of indirect taxes, to be expected. On the contrary, it was certain that these burdens would be increased.

The leaflet was not so fortunate in its critique of the prevailing social conditions. In this respect, it had in mind the numerous backward economic institutions still existing in the individual states. These institutions would have to be abolished in the process of inaugurating the new order, in order to render it reasonable. For the essential thing was, of course, that the need of the bourgeoisie for a free development of its forces should be satisfied.

In addition to the dark sides resulting from the catastrophe of recent months, according to Staudinger, there were also some bright sides, at least in a negative way. Two phenomena he regarded particularly as significant for the working class. In the first place, the large majority of the progressive party had shown itself utterly unfit for the political and social regeneration of the fatherland. This was elaborated more at length by the writer. In the second place, it was a welcome sign that the workingmen of all Germany had expressed, themselves in favor of the general introduction of universal, equal and direct suffrage, and social legislation making for freedom.

The leaflet stated, finally, that the experiences during the year 1866 had demonstrated the fact that there was no ground to fear any split within the working class, and that, on the contrary, the increases of opposition to the progressive party demanded, more than ever, unity and unanimity.

“The important demand for universal and direct suffrage is a common slogan of both factions. Both of them also demand a complete transformation of the taxing systems exploiting labor, and a reorganization of the military system that makes a serf of the citizen. Neither side denies the great importance of coalitions and co-operatives, and consequently the necessity of a revolution of the conditions of production. But the debate on the lesser or greater degree of the duties of the state toward the individual (underlined also in the original) is futile, so long as the government, clinging to feudal traditions, disposes of the citizens as though they were a herd without a will, and so long as the sword dictates the political transformation of the fatherland. This sword, while it stands for despicable oppression instead of freedom, threatens to deprive all of us of the foundation for a peaceful solution of the social question.”

In conclusion, the leaflet calls upon the laborers to go to work briskly, and to forget all feuds among themselves.

This proclamation had been published by Staudinger personally. The permanent committee had not been asked for its opinion. We were taken by surprise when this leaflet appeared. I, who was rather closely acquainted with Staudinger, thought that it could not agree with his own views. And my assumption proved to be correct. When called to account concerning this leaflet by his progressive friends in Nuremberg, he confessed that Sonnemann was its author, and that he had merely signed it.

The rapidly approaching elections to the North German Reichstag compelled us to engage in an intense agitation and organization, which demanded heavy sacrifices of all of us. In the eyes of our bourgeois opponents, Socialist agitators are men that fatten on the dimes of the laborers. This charge was never less justified than it was at that time. It required a great deal of enthusiasm, persistence and devotion to the cause to engage in the work of agitation. The agitator had to be glad when he was reimbursed for his cash outlay, and in order to reduce this as much as possible, it was natural that he accepted every invitation to stay with some party comrade that offered it. In this way, he sometimes had peculiar experiences. More than once it happened that I had to sleep in the same room with some married couple. At another time, a domestic-cat gave birth to its young under the couch, upon which I slept, and this did not take place without noise and wailings. Again, one other time, I was lodged by my friend, Motteler, in the garret of a house that was filled with strains of yarn, which the foreman had to deliver to the weavers. When I was awakened early in the morning by the sun, whose rays fell in my face thru a window in the roof, I discovered that I was bedded in a heap of yellow yarn, and that Motteler’s black-haired head rested upon a pile of purple yarn. This excited my laughter, so that Motteler woke up and asked in surprise what was the matter. Similar experiences were made by every one who agitated for the party at that time, and even later. Liebknecht was then particularly active in the agitation. Unexpectedly, he was delayed for months in this work. A sweeping amnesty had been proclaimed in Prussia after the war. Liebknecht, assuming that his expulsion from Prussia had also been canceled in this way, went to Berlin in the beginning of October, and gave a lecture in the printers’ union. He was arrested on the same evening, and later sentenced to three months of imprisonment for breaking the ban. He passed this time in the “Stadtvogtei,” where he was treated like a common criminal. For instance, he was deprived of light at six o’clock in the evening, and this he felt particularly as a hardship. His opponent, J.B. von Schweitzer, fared much better in this respect: This gentleman was granted such liberties and amenities during his imprisonment as have never been allowed since then to any political prisoner in a Prussian prison.

The elections for a constitutional North German Reichstag had been called for February, 1867. This induced us to call a state convention to Glauchau for Christmas, 1866, in order to nominate our candidates. Our financial resources and our propaganda forces compelled us to limit ourselves to those election districts in which our organization was a good one. These were, in the first place, the seventeenth election district, Glauchau-Merane, in which I was nominated as a candidate; the eighteenth, Crimmitschau-Zwickau, in which Lawyer Schraps was a candidate; and the nineteenth, Stollberg-Lugau-Schneeberg, which was assigned to Liebknecht. Since he was not released from his prison until the second half of January, he could work but insufficiently in his district, and so he was defeated. Schraps and myself carried our districts. I had four opponents, among them Fritzsche, in his capacity as a member of the General Association of German Workingmen, who received only 400 votes. He opposed me in a large voters’ meeting in Glauchau, but was worsted. Politically, I was ahead of him, and in Socialist matters, I did not lag behind him. With 4600 votes, I gained a good start over my next opponent, and in the second elections, I won out by a vote of 7922. My opponent received 4281 votes.

The elections were fought, even then, in a very dishonest manner. For instance, one day, when travelling in my election district, I heard some gentleman make disparaging remarks about me in another section of the railroad car. He claimed I had promised the weavers in Glauchau double wages and an eight-hour day, if they would elect me. These lies made me angry. I arose and asked my detractor whether he had been told by Bebel himself what he had just related. He replied in the affirmative. I called him an insolent liar, and when he wanted to fly at my face, I revealed my identity. He became very small, and the passengers heaped ridicule and scorn upon him. At the next station he hurriedly left the car.

The year 1867 brought with it two general Reichstag’s elections. In the first election, in February, the constitutional convention was elected that was to draw up the future constitution, and that ceased to exist after the fulfillment of this mission. The elections for the first legislative period, which took place in the beginning of August, resulted, on our side, to the election of Liebknecht, Schraps, Dr. Goetz of Lindenau, a turner, who was at that time a red republican, and myself. From among the Lassalleans, J. B. von Schweitzer and Dr. Reinecke were elected. The latter resigned later on and was replaced by Fritzsche. In an after-election, Hasenclever won out. Since a portion of the General Association of German Workingmen had meanwhile detached itself under the patronage of the friend of Lassalle, the Countess von Hatzfeldt, and founded a Lassallean General Association of German Workingmen, this faction likewise elected a representative in the person of Foersterling, and later a second one, in the person of Mende, who became Foersterling’s successor in the presidency of the association. Mende was a hollow head, who had so run himself down in the service of the countess that he did not dare to speak without an injection of morphine, and who used to close his speeches with the phrase: “I have spoken,” whereby he always created much merriment in the Reichstag.

Later, I shall refer to my position and activity in the Reichstag.


Next: The Continued Development of the Federation of German Workingmen’s Clubs