August Bebel


Before Barmen-Elberfeld

The fights with the Lassalleans of both factions became more and more violent with the year 1868. This was not altered by the fact that we took up a collection for the campaign of Hasenclever in the Duisburg election district, in the fall of 1868, and that we supported the close contest of York against the national liberal Prof. Planck, who later on, as one of the principal collaborators on the Civil Code, wrote a commentary on it, in the election district of Celle. Both these steps were intended to prove that we made a distinction between the members of the General Association of German Workingmen and their president. For the beginning of March, 1869, we had called a general Saxon workingmen’s convention to Hohenstein-Ernstthal, with the order of business: Reform of the Saxon law of association and election laws. The invitation had also been signed by the Saxon leaders of both factions of the Lassalleans. On the day before this convention our party was to hold a state convention, with the order of business: The trade unions. But the wisdom of Mende-Hatzfeldt had decreed otherwise.

When I came to Hohenstein on Sunday morning from a meeting in Mittweida, I saw that many workingmen, who looked night-worn and were covered with dirt, were hastening to the railroad station. I learned then that these men, followers of Mende and Hatzfeldt, altogether from 80 to 100 men from Chemnitz, had forced their way into our hall for the purpose of breaking up our meeting. There had been a great disturbance, and finally a fight, so that the mayor had called out the fire department, because the police proved to be helpless and could not restore order. Vahlteich had been arrested, because he had pulled a sword out of his cane. He was released after a few days. The terrible excitement caused among the entire population by these incidents had resulted in calling the state convention off, which I regarded as a tactical mistake. I was congratulated on various sides for having been absent during the disturbance, because the disturbers had been especially after me and had threatened to knock me down.

Six months later, when the Eisenach congress was over, I held a monster meeting in Chemnitz with an overwhelming success. After the meeting a number of workingmen who had participated in the row came to me at Hohenstein and begged my pardon. They could not understand how they had been led into such intrigues.

Liebknecht and myself had long desired to have a personal meeting and discussion with J. B. von Schweitzer. Our wish was fulfilled more quickly than we had hoped. On February 14th, a meeting called by the Lassalleans in Leipsic, which neither Liebknecht nor myself attended, resolved to invite Schweitzer and Liebknecht to face each other in a public meeting and prefer charges against each other. Liebknecht declared at once in the “Demokratisches Wochenblatt,” that he would gladly accept the invitation, that he was ready to face Schweitzer in a popular meeting and to prove that Schweitzer, either for money or from personal inclination, had tried systematically since the end of 1864 to undermine the organization of the labor party and had played the game of Bismarckian Caesarism. If Schweitzer should evade him, as he had done before, Liebknecht stood ready, alone or with me, to appear at the general convention of the General Association of German Workingmen, or to face Schweitzer in the presence of his authorized representatives and of the presidents of the workers’ groups, and to substantiate his charges. Liebknecht added the suggestion that the General Council of the International should act as arbitrator between Schweitzer and himself.

After the “Social-democrat” had stated the fact that Schweitzer had been almost unanimously elected president by the last general convention, and so must have the full confidence of the association, it replied: According to the by-laws of the organization, the president is responsible for his actions only to the general convention of the General Association of German Workingmen. Schweitzer was in prison. The “Social-democrat” could not forestall his decisions, but it thought it could give assurance that Schweitzer would answer everybody, even Messieurs Liebknecht and Bebel, at the general convention in Barmen-Elberfeld. Liebknecht would be taken at his word. But the General Association of German Workingmen could not sanction the intervention of any arbitrator in matters concerning its president.

We were much gratified by this reply, which evidently had been written by Schweitzer himself. In view of the course which this matter had taken and the stir it had made, Schweitzer could not afford to evade us. That he was willing to have us admitted to the general convention suited us, although from a strict point of view we did not belong there, since we were not members of the association. Evidently, Schweitzer assumed that he would find the best backing amid his own delegates at the general convention, and that a session behind closed doors would compromise him least.

Strange to say, the “Social-democrat” declared three days later that Schweitzer would not meet us, because we had no right to appear at the general convention. This was revoked in the next issue of the paper. We were again invited and assured that Schweitzer would even use his influence at the general convention to have us admitted. In Barmen-Elberfeld things looked differently later on.

After we had received the official invitation to the general convention, we got under way. In Cassel a gentleman stepped into our compartment. We took him for a delegate to the general convention. Our assumption proved to be correct: In the course of the conversation we learned that our traveling companion was Wilhelm Pfannkuch, who had guessed immediately who we were. We rode together to the Wupper Valley.

To leave the description of the events at the general convention in Barmen-Elberfeld and the incidents following it to the next part of my reminiscences. Above all, I shall explain the reasons that made opponents of J. B. von Schweitzer and ourselves.

In conclusion, I wish to remark that the year 1869 became of paramount significance for the German labor movement. During it, after vehement struggles and after the elimination of many misunderstandings, the guiding lines were laid down which proved to be decisive for the ensuing development. The Eisenach congress, in the beginning of August, when the Social-democratic Labor Party of Germany was founded, formed the climax of this development. Politically, likewise, the situation was vastly different from that of a few years previous. The constitution of the North German Federation had been made to order for its creator, Bismarck, and naturally the liberal demands, and still more the democratic ones, had fared badly. The hopes and expectations which had existed in the circles of the liberals in this respect turned out to be vain. Bismarck was not the man to let a favorable opportunity slip by. Now he tried to make such events, as had taken place during the time of the conflict, utterly impossible. And the greater portion of the liberals met him half-way in this. They had become afraid of their own divinity as men of the strict opposition. The Prussian military system was transferred to the North German Federation without any fundamental changes, only more extended. The first germs were planted for the navy. The responsibility of the ministers and the salaries of representatives were thrown on the scrap heap. Bismarck was the unhampered master of the internal situation.

In exchange for its willingness to meet Bismarck in all important political questions, a willingness that went to the point of stultification, the liberal bourgeoisie secured full satisfaction for its industrial demands which naturally fulfilled also some demands of the working class. Freedom of domicile, abolition of passport restrictions, facilitation of marriage and settlement, were followed in 1869 by a draft of the new trade ordinance and became established laws. The creation of the revenue-parliament had also given rise to parliamentarian discussions, in which the South German States had participated, concerning laws on revenues, industrial and indirect taxation. This opened up a field of activity which I helped to plough to the best of my ability. In what manner and with what success I helped in this work will be related in the second part of these memoirs.

The End.