August Bebel

Reminiscences


The March to Nuremberg

In July, 1867, after long negotiations between North Germany and the South German states, an agreement had been reached by which the regulation of the taxation and indirect revenue was to be placed in the hands of a so-called revenue parliament, consisting of the members of the North German Reichstag, and of representatives of the four South German states, elected expressly for that purpose. Bismarck had declined to comply with the wishes of the Badensian government and of the South German Liberals, who wanted to be fully admitted to the North German Federation. He had declared that the Prussian government would merely be embarrassed by the entry of eighty South German representatives in the Reichstag. The suffrage for the representatives in the revenue parliament was the same as that for the North German Reichstag. Nevertheless, a large portion of the South German People’s Party, especially in Württemberg, declined to take part in the elections, altho Liebknecht and myself made every effort at a conference in Bamberg, in February, 1868, to prevent such a senseless position, which signified nothing else but desertion in plain view of the enemy. A large portion of the workingmen’s clubs in Württemberg also followed the example of the People’s Party. Another portion of them voted, and since the People’s Party was also divided on this, several Democrats made a successful run for the revenue parliament. It was different in Hessia, which at that time was politically divided into halves. Upper Hessia belonged to the North Federation, Rhine Hessia and Starkenburg were independent and now voted for candidates to the revenue parliament. Liebknecht and myself supported the democratic candidates in Southern Hessia in the campaign and held meetings for them. On the occasion of one of these meetings, we also came to Darmstadt, to the house of Louis Buechner (the author of “Force and Matter”), where Liebknecht made the acquaintance of his future second wife. His first wife had died a year previously. Liebknecht was the only one to gather a trophy in this campaign - namely, his second wife, while the rest of us marched home beaten. The democratic candidates in Mayence and Darmstadt had been defeated.

In Bavaria and Württemberg, a large portion of the workingmen’s clubs at that time worked in conjunction with the People’s Party for the introduction of the militia system, since in both states a military reorganization was planned. Success was obtained in so far as the government of Württemberg came to an agreement with the legislature to introduce a military service of seventeen months. In Bavaria, under the influence of the renowned statistician, Kolb, the military committee of the legislature had even declared in favor of a service of only nine months, and decided to abolish four cavalry regiments. These achievements were overthrown by the Franco-German war, and the admission of the South German states into the empire.

In Saxony, where a new election law was to be introduced, we agitated in favor of the same suffrage as that for the Reichstag. Furthermore, the headquarters stirred the workingmen’s clubs to take a position against the bill brought before the North German Reichstag by Schulze-Delitzsch, concerning the position of the associations in private law, which fell far below the corresponding law in Saxony. Other agitations were directed against the tobacco and kerosene tax planned by the revenue-parliament, and against a whole series of reactionary regulations in the draft of a bill concerning a new trade ordinance pending in the North German Reichstag. I elucidated this subject in an article written for the “Arbeiterhalle.”

That the political dissension in the federation of workingmen’s clubs could not be continued much longer was evident to us at headquarters. After we had gotten control in Gera, the situation had to be exploited. A firm program had to be created, no matter what the result might be for the federation. Our own conceptions were met half way by the Workingmen’s Educational Club in Dresden, at which Vahlteich presided from September, 1867. He introduced a resolution there to this effect. In South Germany, Eichelsdoerfer agitated for the same idea.

I sent a reply to the latter on April 18, 1868, telling him that the question of a program had been discussed and affirmed by us, but that it would mean a split in our organisation. We first asked Sonnemann whether he intended to submit a draft of a program. He declined. Then we asked Robert Schweichel, who had moved from Hannover to Leipsic, and who assisted Liebknecht in the editorship of the “Demokratisches Wochenblatt,” to work out a draft and to report on it at the next convention. We selected Schweichel in agreement with Liebknecht. Schweichel’s conciliatory nature was better adapted to this case than Liebknecht’s aggressiveness, because it was necessary to win over some of the hesitating representatives of the clubs.

As soon as it became known that the headquarters wanted to submit a program to the next convention, great excitement arose in the clubs controlled by the Liberals. The Liberal press, north and south, pounded us, and tried to stir the clubs against us. From various sides letters of protest and warning came to me. The chairman of the Nuremberg Workingmen’s Club, a superior teacher named Roegner, insinuated all sorts of motives on our part. He said we were trying to make up for our “ill-success” in the Reichstag and in the revenue-parliament by our procedure in the convention, we were inspired by hatred of Prussia, etc. But we would be mistaken and suffer defeat. I replied that precisely the proceedings in the Reichstag and in the revenue-parliament had demonstrated how much value the workingmen attributed to their energetic participation in politics in a manner corresponding to their interests. Social and political matters could not be separated, the one supplemented the other... The laborer should be democratic from the point of view of his interests.... The vagueness manifested by the federation so far could not be continued.... Roegner might contend that it is unjust at the time, when the sharp antagonisms between state-help and self-help are disappearing, and both parties have approached each other, to throw a new apple of discord between them. But my reply is that it is precisely the aim of our program to give expression to this approach.... Antagonisms cannot be overcome by silence, but by discussion.... It is possible that we may be defeated at the convention, but that would not detain us from making the step planned by us. This would not be the first time that I would be in the minority, but had gradually obtained the majority by renewed trials. I recalled merely my motion to elect the president and the headquarters by direct ballot, which had been combatted since 1865, but won out in 1867.... With the chairman of the Oldenburg Workingmen’s Club I had a long controversy. I informed him that we considered a program necessary, in order that everybody might know where our federation stood, and especially in order that the headquarters and the executive might know just in what manner the majority of the membership wished to be governed. We had often felt the lack of a clear point of view. For the one side we went too far, for the other side, not far enough. I wanted to confess, for my part, that if the majority of the clubs should decline a Social-Democratic program, the headquarters and the majority of the Saxon clubs would ask themselves whether they still cared to belong to the federation.

At the same time, Moritz Mueller, of Pforzheim, advocated the organization of labor unions, and recommended that steps be taken to do away with the administration of the clubs by doctors and professors. I replied to him on July 16th, that I agreed with his ideas concerning labor unions. The printers and cigarmakers of Germany had already followed the example of the English workingmen, now the shoemakers of Leipsic and the bookbinders in Dresden were following suit. I also agreed with him that the workingmen’s clubs should elect leaders from their own ranks. That doctors and professors were no good as leaders, we had learned by our own experience.

As was expected, the convention, held at Nuremberg, by the choice of the large majority of the clubs, was uncommonly well attended. Ninety-three organizations were represented by 115 delegates. Among the invited guests were also Eccarius of London, as a representative of the International(1), Oberwinder and Hartung as representatives of the Vienna Workingmen’s Educational Club, Quick and Greulich as representatives of the German workingmen’s clubs of Switzerland, Dr. Ladendorf of Zurich, formerly an inmate of the Berlin penitentiary, as the representative of the German Republican Club of Zurich, Dr. Heger of Bamberg, as the representative of the German section of the International in Geneva, Buetter, as the representative of the French section of the International in Geneva, Brueckmann and Niethammer of Stuttgart, as representatives of the committee of the German People’s Party. Among the delegates of the clubs was Jacob Venedey, as the representative of a Badensian club, who had acquired some renown, thanks to Heinrich Heine, in the role of Kobes of Cologne. A member of the General Association of German Workingmen, Dr. Kirchner, was also present; he had a credential from the Hildesheim Weavers’ Union. Kirchner was the first swallow from the General Association of German Workingmen that flew over to our side. In the eyes of JB von Schweitzer, this was a crime. Kirchner was elected later as a trustee. The main proceedings of the convention took place in the large historical hall of the city hall, which the Nuremberg city authorities had offered, in the hope that the Liberal faction would win out. This hope was vain. I opened the convention with an address of welcome to the foreign delegates, and called for the election of officers. Out of 94 votes cast, 69 fell to me and 21 to Roegner of Nuremberg, while 4 were scattered. This was decisive evidence of the spirit that would dominate the convention. Loewenstein, of Fuerth, was elected as first vice-president with 62 votes, Buerger of Goeppingen, as second vice-president, with 59 votes. The opposition was defeated along the whole line. Now they tried to save what they could in the fixing of the order of business. They demanded the striking of the program question from the order of business. A sharp discussion ensued. “No compromises!” was shouted on various sides, and so the adoption of the unabridged order of business was voted by a large majority.

The negotiations of the convention took a splendid course. The Nuremberg session was one of the best which I ever attended. As a reporter for the headquarters, I was able to state that the new organization had stood the test well, and that the federation was in better shape than ever before. The clubs belonging to the federation numbered about 13,000 members. An attempt of Venedey to eliminate the program question by a modified order of business failed. The debate on the program attracted universal interest. The final result was that the program was adopted by 69 votes, representing 61 clubs, against 16 votes, representing 32 clubs. The minority protested against this decision, left the hall, and did not take part in the proceedings any more. Their attempt to create a new organization, under the name of German Workingmen’s Federation, failed. The clubs belonging to it lost all political significance, and acted only as tails to the various Liberal parties.

The adopted program was as follows:

“The fifth convention of German workingmen’s clubs, held at Nuremberg, declares its agreement with the program of the International Workingmen’s Association in the following points:

“(1) The emancipation of the working classes must be the work of these classes themselves. The struggle for the emancipation of the working classes is not a struggle for class privileges and monopolies, but for equal rights and equal duties, and for the abolition of all class rule.

“(2) The economic dependence of the workingman upon the monopolist (the exclusive owner) of the tools of production forms the basis of servitude in every form, of social misery, of intellectual degradation and political dependence.

“(3) Political freedom is the indispensable instrument of economic emancipation for the working classes. The social question is, therefore, inseparable from the political question, its solution by political action based upon and practicable only in a democratic state.

“Furthermore, in view of the fact that all efforts of the working class, directed towards economic emancipation, have failed so far from lack of solidarity between the many lines of labor of every country, and the absence of a fraternal bond of unity between the laboring classes of the various countries; in view of the further fact that the emancipation of the workers is neither a local nor a national, but a social problem comprising all countries having modern societies, a problem depending upon the practical and theoretical co-operation of the most advanced countries, the fifth German workingmen’s convention decides to join in the efforts of the International Workingmen’s Association.”

The resolutions of the Nuremberg workingmen’s convention left no longer any doubt as to where the clubs stood. Nevertheless, the majority at the general convention of the People’s Party, held in Stuttgart on September 19th and 20th, acted as tho no change had taken place. They even declared their agreement with the program resolution of Nuremberg, and added, by way of explanation, that questions of state and social questions were inseparable, and that particularly economic emancipation of the working classes and political freedom were conditioned upon each other. They also declared their agreement with the program speech of Johann Jacoby, delivered in Berlin on May 24, 1868.

This was a degree of intelligence which later on was completely lacking in the successors of the People’s Party men. It was especially the lawyer, Niethammer, who had attended the Nuremberg convention, that advocated a continued co-operation. He was of the opinion that the democracy should rise to the social democracy, if it wished to fulfill its duties. He probably would have joined us completely later on, if a sudden death by heart failure had not carried him off too soon.

In addition to Niethammer, it was especially Sonnemann who worked in harmony with these resolutions. Sonnemann, who did not desire any dissolution of the relations between workingmen’s clubs and the People’s Party, at any price, had consented to the Nuremberg program, altho he was not enthusiastic over it. Now he was concerned, above all, in having the general convention of the People’s Party endorse his step in Nuremberg.

The exodus of the minority had destroyed the order of business of the workingmen’s convention, for the reporters on various points were among those who left. A report of Sonnemann's, on the establishment of old age funds under state supervision, raised opposition, inasmuch as all the speakers, especially Vahlteich, expressed themselves to the effect that the entire workingmen’s insurance should be administered by the workingmen united in centralized labor unions.

The corresponding resolution, offered by Vahlteich and Greulich, and unanimously adopted, read as follows:“Whereas, The transfer of the management of a universal old age insurance for workingmen to the existing state unconsciously leads the laborer to have an interest in the prevailing form of the state, to which he cannot trust himself by any means.(2)

“Whereas, Sick and Death Benefit Funds, as well as Old Age Pensions, are best inaugurated and maintained by labor unions, as experience has shown,

“Therefore, The fifth national convention decides to recommend to the members of the federation, and especially to the headquarters, that they work energetically for a unification of the workers in centralized labor unions.”

Germann, of Leipsic, spoke on sick benefit funds. He summed up his report in the following resolution: “The convention should recommend to the members of the federation that they form a board of local delegates which shall aim at a good organization of the funds, a complete autonomy, unification of these by trades in unions and a discussion of the interests of these funds in a suitable organ; secondly, free transfers between union, treasuries, and administration of the sick benefit capital by the business methods of banks; in the third place, establishment of such banks for servants and working women, in order to relieve the existing want of these things.”

In the further process of the convention proceedings, Schweichel reported on indirect taxation, Liebknecht on the military question. The committee, which had been nominated to examine into the management of the headquarters, expressed high praise for it. Books and files were in the best order, altho the burden of work had increased considerably, and the headquarters received the warmest commendation. The material compensation for the work performed amounted to $57 and 4 new groschen for the business year. In the election for president, I received 57 out of 59 votes cast. This left the management in Leipsic for the next year.

The following were selected as trustees: Buerger of Goeppingen, Notz of Stuttgart, Eichelsdoerfer of Mannheim, Guenzel of Speier, Sonnemann of Frankfort-on-Main, Stuttmann of Ruesselsheim, Dr. Kirchner of Hildesheim, Heymann of Coburg, Motteler of Crimmitschau, Krause of Muelsen (St. Jacob), Bremer of Magdeburg, Vahlteich of Maxem (near Dresden), Kobitzsch of Dresden, Oberwinder of Vienna, Loewenstein of Fuerth. The small representation of North Germany among the trustees was caused by the fact that the representatives of the North German clubs, with a few exceptions, belonged to the opposition, and had bolted with their clubs from the federation.

The Workingmen’s Federation, after its formation, published a proclamation, in which violent charges were hurled against the Nuremberg convention, and in which even untruths and misstatements were not missing. I replied in No. 46 of the “Demokratisches Wochenblatt” under date of September 23, 1868, refuting these charges in a long statement. Among other things, the proclamation of the opposition had claimed that we wanted to lure the workingmen into a “social communist standpoint.” I replied that the “social communist” standpoint was a very queer one. It consisted of only two words, and yet they contained, first, an absurdity; secondly, a lie; third, a denunciation. The denunciation was meant to scare not only the possessing classes, but also the working classes by the word communism. The terms, “socialist” and “socialism,” were no longer effective enough, for the workingmen and employers were getting used to them. They were discovering more and more that Socialism was not so very terrible, and so the word “communist” had to be dragged in for the purpose of terrifying the philistines.

The resolutions of the Nuremberg convention created a new situation for our movement. Now there could longer be any talk of a small bourgeois party, as Schwetzer had so far always announced to the members of the General Association of German Workingmen in his paper, the “Social-Democrat,” and as he used to dub particularly the Saxon People’s Party, altho he knew very wall that the bourgeois elements were an insignificant minority in that party. At any rate, they were not more numerous than they were in the General Association of German Workingmen, as Liebknecht told him to his face in the following spring, at the general convention of the association in Elberfeld, where he admitted it by nodding affirmatively. That was also discovered by the agitators whom he sent to Saxony a few months later for the purpose of combatting us. One of them, L. Sch., who later went over to the guild’s, and is to-day the First Master of a shoemakers’ guild, said later: “Schweitzer has fooled us thoroly, for in the crowded meetings which we held, we never saw anybody but workingmen and again workingmen.” He might have added: “And our success was zero.” Liebknecht and myself followed them into nearly every meeting which they held, and defeated them again and again.

From now on it could no longer be denied that a Socialist party existed in the Saxon People’s Party, and in the federation of workingmen’s clubs standing on the same basis as the International. The Nuremberg convention and its results, therefore, made an impression in the General Association of German Workingmen, in which suspicions were already awake against Schweitzer. The effect showed itself in the course of the following year. If the right man had then stood at the head of the General Association of German Workingmen, the unification of the socialistically thinking workingmen would have become a fact even then. Seven years of injurious conflicts with one another would have been saved to the movement.

Shortly after the Nuremberg convention, animated discussions took place in the Berlin Workingmen’s Club, whose president, Krebs, had maintained an ambiguous attitude thruout the entire controversy. The result was that a strong minority left the club and founded a democratic workingmen’s club, which declared in favor of the Nuremberg program. Among the founders of the new club were, among others, G. Boas, Havenith, Karl Hirsch, Jonas, Paul Singer, O. Wenzel. Later they were joined by Th. Metzner, Milke and Heinrich Vogel, who had either left the General Association of German Workingmen or had been expelled, like Vogel. The club had a hard time with the Lassalleans in Berlin. The latter sneeringly called it a club of officers without an army, which was not altogether wrong. But the officers accomplished something and gradually created the missing army.

The Achilles heel of the workingmen’s federation was its weak financial condition. Little could be accomplished with the annual dues of one groschen, altho the federation had 10,000 members. With an eye to dues for local purposes, the greater sacrifices for the federation were overlooked. In this respect the General Association of German Workingmen excelled us. We at headquarters, therefore, were thinking seriously of remedies, by means of changes in organization. The situation became still more disagreeable for us when Schweitzer announced great agitation tours thru Saxony and South Germany, for which he had selected a number of agitators. Our defense required, above all, money, which we did not have. The “Demokratisches Wochenblatt” also needed considerable cash contributions, having become the organ of the federation since December, 1868. We had founded it with a total cash fund of $10 in our pockets, to which other small contributions were added. On a similar “financial basis,” party organs were often founded later on. So far as calculations went, they were bankrupt with the very first issue. But the self-sacrifice and enthusiasm of the members for their paper knew hardly any bounds. The leading personalities naturally had to be satisfied with ridiculously small sums for their work, and they were so. The present generation in our party has no idea of the penury of those conditions and of the demand for gratis services. For instance, Liebknecht as editor of the “Demokratisches Wochenblatt,” received only $40.00 per month, later as editor of the “Volksstaat,” $65.00 per month. Hepner was employed, in 1869, at $25.00 per month. The labor department in the “Demokratisches Wochenblatt” I wrote free of charge, for the management of the circulation department I received $12.00 per month, but I had to supply the rooms. When the war broke out in 1870, I relinquished this enormous salary. A raise of salary was not known in those days. For instance, when the “Vorwaerts,” the successor of the “Volksstaat,” was killed in 1878 by the anti-socialist laws, Liebknecht still had the same salary as nine years previously. But in the meantime he had five children more by his second marriage, the oldest of whom was not ten years old. In financial respects we have become a bourgeois party compared to old days, for what I say here of the workingmen’s clubs applies also to the General Association of German Workingmen.

But the party has always been lucky. For this reason I often said jokingly to my friends: “If there is a God, He must love the Social Democracy very much, for when the need is greatest, help is always nearest.” In the present case help came from a source from which we could not have expected it. I was just complaining to one of our trustees from the outside, who was visiting me, how embarrassing our position was, when the letter-carrier brought me a registered letter. Its sender was Dr. Ladendorf of Zurich, whom I had met in 1866 in Frankfort, and with whom I had renewed my acquaintance at the Nuremberg convention. He wrote that he was placing at my disposal, out of a fund, the so-called revolution fund entrusted to himself and to his friends, the sum of 3,000 francs, which I should receive in three instalments, and for which I should give him a detailed account. Who was happier than I? I jumped with joy, and communicated the good news to my wondering friend. This revolution fund, which later also played a role in the Leipsic process for high treason, and about whose origin more can be found in the proceedings of that process, helped us out of a tight place several times. But this spring dried up when we came into conflict with Ladendorf and his friends on account of our position on the resolutions of the Basle international congress in the matter of the land question and of the martial events of 1870.

The agitation which Schweitzer inaugurated against us was unsuccessful. In southern Germany, it was accompanied by but a moderate success: Contrary to expectations, his agitators had been met also in South Germany by men of our clubs who were able to defeat them. But it is evident that such mutual fights made the sentiment in both parties continually more bitter.


1. My letter of invitation to the General Council was as follows: To the General Council of the International Workingmen’s Association in London. Gentlemen: An important event pending in a large portion of the German working-men’s clubs induces me to address a few lines to you. On September 5th, 6th and 7th, the federation of German workingmen’s clubs will hold its national convention in Nuremberg. Among the important questions on the order of business, the leading one is the “Program Question,” in other words, it is to be decided whether the federation shall continue in its present unprincipledness and planless working methods or whether it shall work according to definite principles and in a definite direction.

We have decided in favor of the last-named policy and intend to recommend the adoption of the program of the International Workingmen’s Association as published in the first issue of the “Vorbote,” eventually also our affiliation with the International. A majority for this plan is assured and our success beyond question. We believe, however, that it would create a good impression if adelegate from the International Workingmen’s Association would attend these proceedings, which are of the greatest interest to you, and for this reason we have the honor of expressing to you our wish and tendering to you our urgent invitation to send one or several delegates from the International Workingmen’s Association to our convention at Nuremberg.

We entertain the pleasant hope that you will comply with our request and let us have your affirmative answer soon. Your delegates may be sure of a friendly reception. With greetings and handshake,The Headquarters of the Federation of German Workingmen’s Clubs.August Bebel, Chairman.

2. Much later, Bismarck declared, likewise, that small pensions are the best incentive, even for workingmen, to make them favorably inclined to the existing order of the state, and so he suggested the idea of invalid and old age insurance.


Next: The Trade Union Movement