Sixty Years in the Social-Democratic Movement


My participation in the International Socialist movement naturally brought me in contact with many prominent comrades. With many of them I entered into a correspondence, among whom were Engels, Freiligrath, J. Ph. Becker, Leo Frankel, Cowell, Stepney, Professor Labriola, Karl Kautsky, etc. I also corresponded for the Budapest “Arbeiter-Wochenchronik” and the Zurich and London “Social-Democrat” in the seventies and eighties. It was, and it is still, my highest pleasure to serve my party by propagating Socialism as far as my abilities allow. I honour everyone who is working in the service of Socialism, but that does not prevent me from criticising where it seems necessary to me to do so. According to my experience gathered during these many years as a common soldier of the proletarian army, it is mostly the fault of the masses if their leaders are treasonable. Working men must always control the actions of their representatives, but they must also learn to be able to control them. The more the proletariat enlightens and educates itself, the less danger there will be that its leaders will act against its interests. The working class wants knowledge, not only to enable it to beat its enemies, but also to be able to understand and judge its friends. The English Labour leaders often neglect their duties because of the lack of interest in their work among the masses they represent. This is likewise one of the causes why Socialism has been so long getting representatives in the House of Commons.

In the beginning of the eighties, the Social-Democratic movement began to revive in England. In 1881 originated the “Social-Democratic Federation”; in 1885, the “Socialist League”; in 1888 the “Bloomsbury Socialist Society,” which latter took the initiative for the celebration of the May Day in London.

In 1886 and 1887 I took part in the Trafalgar Square demonstrations, and up to now am working to awaken the class consciousness of the English working class.

In 1891 I attended the International Socialist Congress at Brussels as a delegate. It was, as I have already mentioned, not the first time that I saw the Belgian capital. But how mighty was the difference between 1868 and 1891. A comparison between the two Congresses showed me, in the most striking manner, the gigantic progress the proletarian movement had made within the last 25 years. I felt myself highly compensated for all that we had done and sacrificed for years in the interests of the party. I shall never forget the reception the Ghent population gave to the delegates of the International Congress. The short stay at Ghent belongs to the most pleasing recollections of my life.

I was also well satisfied by the Zurich International Congress in 1893, and the Congresses of the German Social-Democracy, in 1893 at Cologne, and in 1894 at Frankfort, which I also attended.

During my visit at Cologne and Frankfort, I seized every opportunity to make the acquaintance of the young men attending the Congresses and the meetings, and I was most agreeably surprised to find how well they understood our cause. Spontaneously the times came back to my memory when I myself, as a young fellow, spread the doctrines of Socialism in secret. How difficult and dangerous was the task at that time. How difficult it was to make the young working men understand the principles of modern Socialism, as represented in the Communist Manifesto! How different it is to-day! The youths learn easily and eagerly, and willingly suffer for their convictions; they educate their intellect and their characters, and harden themselves for the fights to come. This experience has done me good. If only Marx and his wife could have seen and experienced all this! Both of them had struggled and suffered so much, and sacrificed all; but it was unluckily not given to them to see the splendid harvest of their painfully-spread seed!

And yet Marx was firmly convinced that the working class would understand him sooner or later, and draw from his doctrines the power to effect the revolution of the bourgeois society, and with clear conscience to work towards the construction of a new society.

Marx has not been mistaken!

This is the conviction I have brought home from the last Congresses, and this certainly brightens the rest of my life.


I may be allowed at the conclusion of these reminiscences to mention that my second wife (who is still living) has done her share in the movement, although she did not speak in public or contribute by writing.

When I made her acquaintance, in 1869, she already possessed some knowledge of what life was. Grown up in a little town in Germany, she was already, as a school-girl, obliged to earn something towards the support of the family. She could not attend school regularly, but as at that time schools in small towns were not up to much, she did not, perhaps, lose a great deal. It was the struggle for life that sharpened her reason.

It is scarcely possible to believe how little the poor were paid at that time for long and hard work that kept them so intensely engaged that they hardly had time to think over their unfortunate lot.

When I joined the Labour movement in early life, it soon became clear to me that women must be drawn into the movement, that without their participation a movement like the proletarian one could never be perfect and victorious. It is to women and their influence upon the education and bringing up of children that we must look for a better state of social conditions in the next generation.

With my help my wife soon learned to understand my ideas on economical and political questions. From the beginning of our married life I took her to German and English meetings for her to understand the working-class movement. But as years went by, we had to work harder for our living; the family grew, and there was little spare time left for my wife to accompany me to meetings, but, unselfishly, she insisted that I should go. Without her help and goodwill, it would have been impossible for me to do for the cause what little I have done. It is due to my wife’s untiring industry, economy, and her abandonment of all amusement that we have been able to steer clear of all the sorrows, and afflictions, and hard times that beset a working man’s life.

That all these worries, which she withheld from me should have made her older than she is, and a sufferer, is not surprising, and it grieves me now that I cannot alter these circumstances.

When I here openly declare that I owe it only to the goodwill of my wife what I have been able to do for the Labour movement for so many years, I set it forth, also, as an example to other working men’s wives to do their share in our movement, in order to make it more successful.

There are so many time-servers and place-hunters in this world who consider their interest alone, to the exclusion of all fellow-feeling, that it is imperative for those endowed with intelligence to take their stand in the interest of our common cause. There are thousands of nameless men and women who silently have done their duty. Where would the working class be now without their silent sacrifices? May this fact appeal to everyone to do his duty.

My wife, at least, will never forget or forgive the indignities and harm which the capitalist class has heaped upon the working class, the remembrance of which has made her such a self-sacrificing adherent to our cause.

Frederic Lessner.

In the preparation of this English edition, I have thankfully to acknowledge the services of our comrade Thalmeyer, who translated it from the German revue “Neue Worte.”


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