Gregory Zinoviev

The Social Roots of Opportunism I


Source: New International, Vol.8 No.2, March 1942, pp.54-60.
Written/First Published: 1916 (approximately) in The War and the Crisis in Socialism
Transcription: Daniel Gaido & Ted Crawford.
Mark-up: by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

At the outbreak of the war the opportunists in the working class of all the most important countries became social chauvinists.

The evolution of the individual persons, of the individual representatives of the Second International cannot be exhaustively explained in the light of the struggle of the two tendencies, It is not correct to maintain that all the present social chauvinists were previously opportunists. It is true beyond a doubt, however, that all the former opportunists are today social chauvinists. Individual, isolated exceptions merely prove the rule, in this case as well. The most important elements of modern social chauvinism were always latent in the old theory of opportunism. The war came, and everything that was still unclear in the ferment of opportunism took on sharply defined forms. The entire bourgeois residue which was until then concealed by the mask of socialism came suddenly out into the limelight. All the potential (bourgeois) energy took on kinetic form – what was kept secret until then was now openly expressed.

But here the question arises: where does opportunism in the socialist movement come from? How, by which path, and through which channels does this bourgeois influence penetrate the workers’ parties?

One of the causes of opportunism are the so-called camp-followers, that is, those strata of the electorate which are mainly recruited from the petty bourgeoisie, which do not belong to the social-democratic party and are not convinced socialists, but nevertheless join with the social democracy occasionally under the influence of one accidental circumstance or another, contributing their voting strength in the elections.

This phenomenon has its deeper causes and is rooted, above all, in the entire development of the bourgeois parties and of bourgeois liberalism. In all countries in which – one way or another – a bourgeois revolution has taken place, the bourgeoisie has long been – in Germany, ever since 1848 – counter-revolutionary and inimical to the people. The historic experiences accumulated by the bourgeoisie have had their effect. Even in a country which is going through the state of development that present-day Russia is, the bourgeoisie has become a thoroughly counter-revolutionary factor.

Bourgeois liberalism has lost its attractive powers and is continuing to lose it ever more, from year to year. In Germany, for instance, for some time now no genuine people’s party has existed outside of the social democracy. There is no great bourgeois-democratic party to take into its ranks, not proletarians, but millions of the small people, those people who are dissatisfied with the existing order, who feel that they are at a disadvantage in modern society, who long for a radical economic and political improvement of their situation. All the dissatisfied, all the distressed, all the disfranchised elements are forced to go to the social democracy. No matter how moderate in its demands, how opportunistic the German social democracy was even before the war, it was the only democratic people’s party in Germany. It alone defended, for better or for worse, the interests of the small people and the middle classes. Thus it became converted into a refuge for all the non-proletarian elements who could not stomach the practices of counter-revolutionary and anti-democratic liberalism, already fast in the grip of the imperialist claws. Under the influence of one or another aggressive measure on the part of the bourgeoisie or of the Junkers, many hundreds of thousands of petty bourgeois camp-followers came over and gave their votes to the social democracy.

Therein lay the strength as well as the weakness of the German social democracy. Its strength consisted in the fact that the German social democracy had become the only people’s party, that all the dissatisfied in the country sought its protection, that almost the entire democratic population flocked to its banner. Its weakness consisted in the fact that the petty bourgeois camp-followers brought with them into the workers’ party the political lack of character, the indecision, the bourgeois mode of thinking and all those other characteristics inherent in the strata that stand between the classes. Socialism became infected with opportunism.

Universal Suffrage – The Hunt for Votes

In a country that has universal suffrage a particularly intensive vote-chasing is inevitable. In the chase after electoral successes, the German social democracy adapted itself to its eventual allies, to its camp-followers recruited from the non-proletarian strata. A whole category of people arose who voted for the social democracy, but only reluctantly joined the social-democratic organization, who interested themselves exclusively in the general democratic and reformist work of the social democracy.

The world of the “camp-followers” also carried to the surface the corresponding leaders. Heine, Sudekum, Landsberg, David – these are the typical representatives and leaders of such strata. One such stratum, for instance, the saloonkeepers, is strongly represented in the social-democratic fraction of the Reichstag. Among the social-democratic deputies to the Reichstag there were four saloonkeepers (out of 35 deputies) in 1892; six (out of 81) in 1905; 12 (out of 110) in 1912. [1] Basing themselves upon the more backward layers of the working class, these ideological-political leaders of the camp-followers create a whole tendency inside the social democracy. Gradually a state within a state is formed. The petty bourgeois influences grow constantly stronger. The social democracy itself becomes a camp follower of the camp followers. It is not the camp-followers who adapt themselves to the social democracy, but the social democracy that adapts itself to them. In the critical moments of history it is the petty bourgeois and not the proletarian tendencies in the social democracy that win the upper hand. The petty bourgeoisie, due to its social situation, is doomed forever to vacillate between two camps. Thus it is not at all surprising that in the course of such a crisis as was created by the outbreak of the World War, the pendulum swung over to the bourgeois-imperialist side and remained stationary there. That is how the bourgeoisie achieved a signal victory inside the German social democracy against the working class elements.

How large is the figure for the electoral camp-followers of the social democracy? It is not easy to give an exact answer to this question. First, it is necessary to become familiar with the manner in which the parliamentary successes of the German social democracy developed in general, with the way the entire number of active voters in Germany grew and with what percentage of it the social democracy captured.

The following table throws some light on the subject:


Total Vote

Increase or


Vote Cast
for S-D

Increase or

(S-D Vote)

of S-D













+    210,700






+   349,500


−  56,200




−   663,100






+   566,200












−   312,500






+   445,500

1,786, 700





+     74,700
















This is the general picture up to the year 1907. Finally, the German social democracy gained 990,0000 new votes in the last Reichstag elections (1911), receiving 4,250,000 votes and 110 seats for its deputies.

Let us look at these figures closely. In so far as the absolute increase in votes is concerned, the German social democracy has been marching from triumph to triumph. Only twice, at the inception of the anti-socialist laws, was there an absolute loss of votes cast. But the absolute increase in votes proceeds, not gradually, but in leaps. In view of this circumstance, the question arises: Isn’t there some logical law even in this jerky process, isn’t there some connection between this process, on the one hand, and the influx and decline of camp-followers, on the other hand?

K. Kautsky drew attention to this condition in 1912; he maintained that in the years in which the total number of voters grew, the social democracy did not immediately gain the new votes, but even registered a relative loss of votes. But three or four years later, in the successive elections, the social democracy usually won a big election victory and increased considerably the number of votes cast as well as the number of seats gained. Thus in 1887 the total number of votes rose by about two million, but the social democracy gained only about 213,000 votes and even lost thirteen seats. But in the succeeding elections in 1890, the social democracy gained 664,200 votes and 24 seats in Parliament. A similar phenomenon may be observed between 1907 and 1912. In 1907 the total vote again increased by almost two million, but the social democracy gained only 248,000 votes and lost 38 seats. It was only in the elections of 1912 that the social democracy gained 990,000 new votes and 67 new mandates.

Naturally, inter-party combinations and various sorts of election manoeuvres played their role in all this. But, generally speaking, it is clear that this irregular movement may be accounted for in this manner: When there is a sharp rise in the number of voters, that signifies that such layers of the population as had previously been indifferent to politics have now been awakened to political life. Quite often it is the bourgeois parties and even the governments who share in the creation of this phenomenon by allowing them to participate in political life. In their mad scramble for votes the Center party, the Conservatives, the Liberals, etc., are forced to draw ever new strata of the population into politics. At first the bourgeois parties succeed in deceiving these new layers of politically inexperienced voters – the peasants, the petty bourgeois parties win an electoral victory. But this victory is of short duration. The new strata of voters are soon disillusioned by the bourgeois parties, they become convinced that they are being betrayed and politically exploited. Gradually they begin to go over to the social democracy. This is why we witness a particularly sharp increase in the social-democratic vote at the election several years after the sharp rise in the total voting figures.

Applied to the question of the camp-followers which occupies our interest at present, this has the following significance for us: Between the official social democracy on the one hand, and the bourgeoisie, the Junkers and the clericals on the other, there arises a contest for the vacillating intermediate layers, among whom both camps enlist their auxiliary cadres of camp-followers. The bourgeoisie and the Junkers naturally have at their disposal far greater means and far more opportunities to arouse new strata of voters to action. But a large section of the latter, in so far as they are not directly included among the rich and the exploiters, must inevitably shift to the side of democratic principles, the only representative of which, in Germany, is the social democracy. Part of these camp-followers may, naturally, return once more to the bourgeois parties under the influence of various circumstances. They constitute a changeable quantity, an unreliable element, both from the point of view of the social democracy as well as from the point of view of the bourgeoisie.

A Cross-Section of Social Democratic Votes

Let us turn now to the quantitative side of the question. Let us see if we cannot establish what part of the voting strength of the German social democracy the bourgeois camp-followers constitute.

Regarding the social composition of the social-democratic electorate in Germany, only scant data are available in the press; and that, despite the great importance of the question as to what strata the immense army of voters of the biggest political party in the world are recruited from. All the more valuable, therefore, is the attempt at a scientific investigation of this question that we find in Werner Sombart’s Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik for 1905. We refer to the essay published therein, entitled The Social Composition of the Social-Democratic Electorate in Germany.

In a special post-script to this article, Prof. Max Weber, one of the editors of the journal, points out that in view of the nature of the material with which the author had to operate, the result of his research cannot lay claim to absolute scientific exactness. Our reader must also take this annotation into account. Nevertheless, the data which we cull from the aforementioned work are extraordinarily valuable for the question concerning us.

The investigation bases itself upon a combination of election statistics and social statistics.

“By comparing the corresponding proportions in each of these two fields, valuable disclosures regarding the relationship in question become of themselves apparent, and the contents of the sealed ballot box automatically emerge from their mysterious obscurity.” (Op. Cit., p.59, Essay of Dr. Blank.)

This collation is constructed on the basis of the figures in the election campaign of 1903. But in the course of the two succeeding election campaigns the number of social-democratic voters coming from the petty and middle bourgeoisie must have risen even more considerably.

The method of the author consists of the following: On the basis of the data furnished by social statistics he calculates the figure for all workers participating in the elections in a given city. Then he compares these figures with the data furnished by the election statistics and arrives at the figure for the total number of workers participating in the elections. For instance, if in the city of X, let us say, 10,000 workers participated in the elections, while at the same time, the social democracy received 15,000 votes, then it clearly follows that in this city at least 5,000 votes were cast for the social democracy by non-workers; for, even if we assume that all of the 10,000 workers without exception voted for the social democracy, then the remaining 5,000 votes much have been cast by non-proletarians. This conclusion cannot be challenged.

Applying this method, the author has drawn up a table which comprises the twenty-eight most important cities in Germany. (Op. cit., Vol.20, No.3, p.529.) Since it is of great importance, we are quoting it in full. The center of gravity of the German social democracy is being transferred ever more completely to the city, in line with the whole process of social development. The strength of the German social democracy is concentrated mainly in the cities. The elections of 1912 showed this in a particularly graphic manner. [2]

And what do we see? In the elections of 1903 the German social democracy receives 40 per cent of its votes from non-proletarians in such a city as Bremen, 41 per cent in Hamburg, 41 per cent in Frankfort-on-Main, 41 per cent in Munich, 39 per cent in Leipzig, 41 per cent in Dresden, etc. (See the table.)

Name of City

No. of Workers
of voting age
in categories
A, B, and C

No. participating
in the elections
in the year 1908

No. of S-D votes
in the elections of
June 16, 1908.
Surplus in S-D

Votes in Elections
in percentages






















































Frankfort o.M.



























Aix (Aachen)

















































Strassburg (Alsace)





We do not wish to quote figures from the research study mentioned which may be challenged. But the figures are, as a whole, incontrovertible. And they give the expression to a fact of tremendous political importance. Even in Germany’s biggest cities, in the chief fortresses of the social democracy, more than a third of its voters does not belong to the working class, but to the bourgeoisie. To the petty bourgeoisie, for the greatest part; to those strata which are on their way toward proletarianization and stand close to the working class population – but in any case, to the bourgeoisie.

The Desire to Increase the Electorate

The author of the aforementioned treatise arrives on the basis of a series of computations at the conclusion that as early as 1903 the number of bourgeois votes cast for the German social democracy had already reached the 750,000 mark, at the very least (Op. cit., p.520). This just about equals the number of votes polled by the two liberal parties of the bourgeoisie in the same elections; the “National Liberals” and the “Liberal People’s Party” (542,556). The bourgeois camp-followers of the social democracy are so numerous that they form a counter- balance to the number of voters following the two big German bourgeois-liberal parties. The author regards it as probable that in the elections of 1903, the bourgeois elements in most of the big cities in Germany contributed one third of all the social-democratic votes – in many big cities, even as much as one-half (Op. Cit., p.527).

The German social democracy has its camp-followers not only in the big cities, however, but also on the countryside. In the elections of 1903 the votes cast in the agricultural districts were divided as follows among the various parties:




Social Democratic Party




National Liberal Party


Empire Party


Liberal People’s Party


Thus the social democracy polled all of 735,093 votes in the elections of 1903, on the countryside alone. Undoubtedly the greatest part of these votes came from farm hands and day laborers. But even so, there can be no doubt that votes coming from the agrarian petty bourgeoisie are included in this total. The percentage of the latter is particularly low in the Catholic districts, but even in the Protestant districts it is not high.

By and large, the voters coming from bourgeois circles naturally only form a minority inside the German social-democratic electorate. The majority of the social-democratic voters consists of workers. [4] By the force of their numbers, the working class element could impose their majority will upon the non-proletarian elements. But in reality this does not normally happen. The party wants as many camp-followers as possible. In practice, the party exerts all its energy to draw these bourgeois camp-followers to its side, not to do anything that might displease them very much. Consequently, a whole series of concessions to petty bourgeois psychology, moderation of the proletarian demands, the opening of the road to opportunist unclarity.

Immediately after the abolition of the anti-socialist laws, the German social democracy doubled its vote. The total number of participants in the election fell in 1890 by about 312,000 votes (1887, 7,540,900; 1890, 7,228,500). The number of social-democratic votes, on the other hand, rose by some 664,200 votes (1887, 763,100; 1890, 1,427,300). Whoever followed German public affairs attentively could have observed even at that time, that this growth in the size of the vote was not simply due to the influx of many thousands of petty bourgeois camp-followers. There was some talk, even then, about a certain kind of coalition between bourgeois democracy and the workers’ party.

As an indirect confirmation of this sort of evaluation of the events the following simple but significant incident may serve. In 1891 the German social democracy considered it necessary to change its name. Previously the name was Social Democratic Workers’ Party of Germany. Now it is simply Social Democratic Party of Germany. The word “Workers” disappears from its name.

Obviously a social-democratic workers’ party must not close its doors to people of another class origin. A social-democratic party gathers within its ranks all those elements of society which adopt the point of view of the working class. But in its basic structure, it must remain a workers’ party. It can hardly be regarded as accidental that the German social democracy in the Nineties considered it necessary to change its name precisely in the direction indicated. It must be assumed, moreover, that this was a manifestation of a decidedly opportunist tendency. In the light of the events of 1914, we are naturally inclined to become distrustful. There is even the danger that we might consider accidental and unimportant events retrospectively, as symptomatic of a whole line of opportunism. To all appearances, the incident we have cited has not, however – we repeat – been one of an accidental character.

Dr. Blank’s Thesis and Bebel’s Reply

But let us return to Dr. Blank’s treatise. This work made its impression. None other than August Bebel devoted a long article to it in the Neue Zeit. Bebel disputed the conclusions drawn by Blank, who insisted that in view of the motley composition of its electorate, the German social democracy was not a class party. But the figures employed by the author are recognized by Bebel as substantially authentic. Bebel writes:

“We are even inclined to regard his numerical results, as a whole, as quite close to the point; but it is an entirely different matter with the conclusions he draws from the results of his work.” (A. Bebel, Die soziale Zusammensetzung der sozialdemokratischen Wählerschaft Deutschlands, Neue Zeit, Vol.23, 1904-1905, II, p.332.)

Although Bebel recognizes the statistical data of the author as “quite close to the point,” he is nevertheless of the opinion that the number of social-democratic voters coming from bourgeois circles in 1903 amounted to only 500,000, “so that there were approximately six working class voters to one bourgeois voter (Loc. cit., p.335).

“These are artisans, small businessmen, small farmers, small government employees, teachers, artists, white collar workers in the various types of enterprises, etc.” (Loc. cit., p.337).

“There are, for instance, tens of thousands of industrial workers who receive better pay and better treatment and who are more independent than tens of thousands of business men and office workers. That also explains why, at the elections to the Court of Commercial Arbitration in Berlin, on May 7, 1905, the social democracy received 21 per cent of the votes cast and came out as the second strongest party.” (Loc. cit., p.335.)

Bebel disputes energetically the contention that the social democracy had become transformed from a socialist into just a democratic party. The change in the name of the party, made in 1891, did not have the significance attributed to it, he contended.

“Since the present writer,” Bebel said, “proposed the new name, he is in the best position to furnish information as to the motives behind this proposal. Under the regime of the anti-socialist law all sorts of ‘socialisms’ had made their appearance: in the bourgeois camp there was talk of Christian socialism, of government socialism – with special emphasis on the social insurance legislation – of conservative socialism, etc. It was necessary for us to distinguish ourselves dearly from all this. None dared to call themselves social democratic; therefore we chose the name social democracy, which, because of its brevity, had long before come into common usage.” (Loc. cit., p.339.)

That does not explain, however – we must remark for our part – why it was necessary to delete the word “Workers” from the name. Since such a decision could not have been made without weighing its political significance, it must be assumed that a definite political tendency was, indeed, inherent in this decision. The only question that remains is, what tendency? There can be no two opinions with regard to this: if there was any at all, it could only be an opportunist tendency.

We repeat: in the fact that a large number of “camp-followers” are beginning to penetrate the ranks of the German social democracy, we may perceive in a certain sense, not only a weak side but also a strong side. Bebel was naturally correct in pointing out in his article that not only workers but all the needy and the suffering in general had to look for shelter among the social democracy. That is quite right, but the party must remain a workers’ party. And it must always underscore its proletarian character.

“The process of disintegration in bourgeois society,” Bebel says, “and the constantly more precarious situation of the middle and petty bourgeois strata evoked by it, has also brought a change in the political structure of the bourgeoisie. New political parties have arisen which seek to represent the parliamentary interests of the socially threatened layers of the bourgeoisie. Such are the anti-Semitic and middle class parties, for instance, who have constituted themselves an anti-Semitic fraction and an economic reform fraction in the Reichstag. The political party life of the bourgeoisie has thus become differentiated in accordance with its economic development. In the first place, to the disadvantage of the liberal parties, who have thus suffered the greatest losses among their following. But not by any means to the direct advantage of the social democracy. The latter has also suffered some losses, even if these cannot be proved by means of bare figures.” (Loc. cit., p.335.)

This is only one side of the process indicated by Bebel. Certain sections of the middle and petty bourgeoisie desert the party of the big bourgeoisie and form their own middle class parties. But these intermediate parties have a more or less ephemeral existence in comparison with the new political parties.

The “new liberalism” of which the Marxists of the “Center” had been dreaming ever since 1910, did not come into being. Democratic liberalism is impossible in a society which has reached such a maturity in its class relationships. The last few years of social development have proved the correctness of the views of Rosa Luxemburg and the whole left wing of German Marxism, which had been carrying on a struggle against the alliance with the “new” liberalism.

“Capitalism does not become more democratic, but constantly more plutocratic and liberalism does not become more democratic but more reactionary,” Bebel goes on to say.

A section of the middle and the petty bourgeoisie aims at the creation of independent party combinations. But another – and very considerable – section joins the social democracy, strengthens it in the numbers of its votes and mandates, but weakens its socialist character.

Many of these camp-followers are not only poor socialists but also very inconsistent democrats. Many of them are shaky recruits, unreliable allies of the working class even in the purely parliamentary contests. Bourgeois demagogy – particularly that demagogy which rests upon a “patriotic” base – can always count upon a certain amount of success among these alleged adherents of social democracy. In this connection the official German social democracy was given a sound lesson by the elections of 1907.

These elections, which have gone down into political history as the “Hottentot Elections,” took place under the sign of “patriotism.” Under the slogan of “saving the country,” of strengthening the “military power” of Germany, of fighting for the “rightful interests of the nation” in the field of colonial policy, Prince Bülow succeeded in uniting all the bourgeois parties against the social democracy. And by uniting their forces, these parties succeeded in administering an electoral defeat to the social democracy. The German social democracy lost 38 seats in Parliament at the elections of 1907. To be sure, the absolute number of votes cast for the social democracy had risen by some 248,000. (Loc. cit., pp.335-6.) But the total number of voters participating in the elections had risen by about 2,000,000. In other words, relatively speaking, the German social democracy even lost votes in these elections.

The petty bourgeois camp-followers of the social democracy had been taken in by the bait of “patriotism,” and thus the opponents of the social democracy were assured of success. The workers received an imposing lesson. The dependence of the official German social democracy upon its camp-followers was distinctly proved.

Yielding to the Petty Bourgeois Vote

Even on the eve of the elections, in January, 1907, Franz Mehring had pointed out that Bülow and Company were intent on prying the camp-followers loose from social democracy with the aid of patriotic slogans.

“There is a certain amount of crafty calculation in their belief that the most appropriate weapons for the reserve army of the Philistines, with whom they hope once again to crush the hosts of the modem revolution, are the rusty carbines hailing from the days of the Old Fritz,” writes Mehring. (Neue Zeit, Vol.25, 1906-1907, I, p.253.)

But the “reserve army of the Philistines” actually exercised a decisive influence upon the outcome of the elections.

Not only Mehring, but other German Marxists as well, were clearly aware of the fact that this dependence upon its camp-followers constituted the Achilles’ heel of the social democracy. Just as clear was the knowledge that the petty bourgeoisie could most easily be ensnared with the aid of “national” questions.

In the first article in which the results of the “Hottentot Elections” were summed up, Kautsky explained the defeat of the German social democracy by the circumstance that the latter had underestimated the attractive power of the colonial idea in bourgeois circles. This defeat, he said, was administered to the social democracy by the middle strata which had deserted it this time. (K. Kautsky, Der 25. Januar, ibid., p.589.) Kautsky speaks of the loss of many hundreds of thousands of camp-followers from the middle strata, but he expresses the hope that they would soon return to the social democracy. In 1903, according to Kautsky, many peasants had voted for the social democracy. There has been no lack of elements originating from the non-proletarian strata, Kautsky tells us further, and he explains that he has in mind such elements among them as small businessmen, artisans, the new middle class, the government officials and office workers, physicians, teachers, engineers, etc. In concluding, Kautsky arrives at the reassuring result that the camp-followers are being absorbed gradually by the social democracy and that the social democracy must be the party of all the oppressed. We have gone into this argument more thoroughly in the above passages. Here it is important to establish the fact that Kautsky also admits the existence of many hundreds of thousands of social-democratic voters originating from non-proletarian orbits of the population.

The outstanding parliamentarians and practical politicians of the German social democracy who at that time belonged to the Marxist camp also evaluated the outcome of the “Hottentot Elections” in more or less the same manner as the theoretician Kautsky. “The petty bourgeois camp-follower has played a trick on us” – that is the general sense of this explanation. At the same time they cite figures which prove that this type of camp-follower has long been a powerful factor inside the German social democracy.

Everything Is Measured by the Vote

“The national question, which we had considered as completely obsolete, exercised a surprisingly strong influence ... the furor teutonicus ... [explains] the rapid advances of our opponents. (In Bavaria) tens of thousands [just think: tens of thousands! – G.Z.] who voted for us in 1903 gave their votes on January 5, 1907, to the liberal candidates. The decline in camp-followers is an indisputable fact for Bavaria. But it would be self-deceiving to assume that the 236,871 votes cast for our candidates were therefore entirely reliable,” writes Adolph Braun, very moderate in his politics even at that time. (Adolph Braun, Die Wahlen in Bayern, Neue Zeit, Vol.25, 1906-1907, I, pp.678-80.)

“From the industrial workers alone we cannot expect to get that kind of a growth in votes and in mandates, which our party needs [?] for a victorious advance,” writes Heinrich Busold in his article Lehren aus dem Wahlkampf (loc. cit., p.706).

“It was precisely in the kingdom of Saxony that many events occurred in the course of the last few years before the elections of 1903, that vexed the Philistines to such an extent as to make them our camp-followers. As long as we grew gradually and recruited in the main from the ranks of the industrial workers, we succeeded in effectively enlightening the newly-won camp-followers by means of our press as well as through meetings; to educate them as party comrades and to organize them politically, at least in part. After 1903 we did not, however, succeed in doing this any longer. To be sure, our organizations grew in a hitherto unexperienced manner, our newspapers reached circulation figures that we had not even dreamed of a year or two before. But in relation to our increase in votes, neither our organizations nor our newspapers showed a corresponding growth.”

This is the explanation for the outcome of the elections of 1907 put forth by the well-known orator and Reichstag deputy, Adolph Hoffman. (Loc. cit., p.639; Adolph Hoffman, Ursachen and Wirkungen.)

“Naturally, there have always been a good many camp-followers everywhere, and there still are today. But there was never such an abundance of them as in 1903, when they were pushed over to our side by the vexations of the Saxon petty bourgeoisie ...,” writes one of the foremost social-democratic practical politicians, Hans Block, in his minute examination of the causes for the social democratic defeat in the elections of 1907. (Ibid., p.668, Hans Block, Das Wahlergebnis in Sachsen.)

“Saxony displays ... a powerful development of large industry, to be sure, but also a perseverance in backward industrial forms far greater in extent than in any other part of Germany ... And thus we have a clue to the solution of the question as to how the vacillations of the petty bourgeoisie in a highly industrialized country can have such a strong influence on the course of its political history.” (Loc. cit., p.672.)

Thus we see that the petty bourgeois camp-followers, in a certain sense, had the electoral fate of the German social democracy in their own hands. Despite the fact that the camp-followers turned their backs en masse on the social democracy in 1907, the latter nevertheless received three and a half million votes in the elections. In order to exert a decisive influence on the outcome of an election campaign of as numerically strong a party as that, there must have been camp-followers in large numbers. Blank has estimated, as we have seen, that the camp-followers of the German social democracy in 1903 amounted to 750,000 votes. Bebel was of the opinion that this figure was more or less correct, but rather somewhat smaller. In any case, it was a matter of very large figures ...

In the elections of 1912 the camp-followers were once again on the side of the social democracy. On the one hand, they had become disillusioned with the policy of the bourgeoisie: the promises of mountains of gold had remained mere promises. The burdens of militarism were growing. Taxes were continually on the increase. The so-called financial reform brought about a deterioration in the condition of the middle class. On the other hand, the official leaders of the social-democratic party the chief lesson of the elections consisted in this: that it was necessary to adapt themselves even more to the camp-followers, If the mountain refuses to come to Mahomet, Mahomet must go to the mountain ... As a result, we see in 1912 a new and very strong fluctuation of petty bourgeois camp-followers toward the German social democracy.

How strong – as expressed in numbers – was this influx in 1912? Akademicus, who compiled the election campaign surveys for Neue Zeit in the course of decades, dismissed this question with a few words. “Definite statistical data regarding the position of the new middle class in the elections,” he writes, “are for the present very difficult to obtain.” (Statistische Nachklänge zu den Reichstagswahlen, Neue Zeit, 1912, II, p.882.) “But the fact remains that in numerous districts with a predominantly agrarian population we have made gratifying progress,” Akademicus lists forty-six rural districts in which there is a preponderantly strong village population and in which the social democracy nevertheless achieved such “gratifying” results.

“We have won over nearly a million new fighters: [Not fighters so much as voters – G.Z.] for the most part, let us hope, young people who burned with anxiety to join the active army of our voters; to a lesser extent ‘camp-followers’ whom general dissatisfaction with the policies of our rulers has driven over to our side.” (Loc. cit., p.873.)

This conclusion of Akademicus’s is no doubt very “gratifying.” Only, it is too bad that the author simply decrees it into existence, instead of basing it on facts.

About 75 per cent of the votes amassed by the German social democracy in 1912 came from the cities. This is proved by the following figures supplied by A. Kolb (Die Sozialdemokratie in Stadt und Land, Neue Zeit, 1912, II, p.61): In 1912 the German social democracy received 2,128,210 or 43.1 per cent of all the social-democratic votes, in sixty-eight metropolitan electoral districts. In these sixty-eight districts the number of social-democratic votes rose by 537,330 (33.8 per cent) over that of 1907. In 116 urban electoral districts the number of social-democratic votes in 1912 amounted to 1,321,833, i.e., 30.8 per cent of all the social-democratic votes. The increase over 1907 is 471,956 votes (55.6 per cent). In the mixed electoral districts, the number of social-democratic votes amounted to 675,066, i.e., 18.8 per cent of all the social-democratic votes. In seventy rural electoral districts the number of social-democratic votes in 1912 amounted to 125,220, i.e., 7.7 per cent of all the social-democratic votes. The increase in comparison to 1907 amounted to 24,355 votes (24.2 per cent).

Thus 74 per cent of all the social-democratic votes were cast in the cities – both the large and the small – while in the purely rural electoral districts only 7.7 per cent were cast and in the mixed districts, only 18.8 per cent. According to the composition of its voters, we repeat, the German social democracy is an urban party. But if we recall the table compiled by Blank, quoted above, and remember that Bebel confirmed its general correctness, then we must realize that this circumstance not only does not exclude a great degree of dependence upon its camp-followers on the part of the social democracy, but even presupposes it. If, as early as1903, the number of camp-followers in such cities as Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfort, Leipzig, etc., constituted 40 per cent (and even more) of all the social-democratic votes, then it is very likely that this percentage was not by any means lower in 1912 in the big and the middle urban electoral districts. That would, however, signify that, not counting the camp-followers among the rural population, the host of social-democratic camp-followers in the urban (and mixed) electoral districts alone amounted to more than one and a half million in 1912.

The social-liberal Professor Schmoller evaluates this situation as follows:

“From among the 3 to 4.5 million votes amassed by the party in the last Reichstag elections not quite a million can be attributed to the party itself, about 1.5 million to the trade unions and the rest to the camp-followers. The latter consist of small and poor artisans, domestic workers, shopkeepers, unorganized workers, dissatisfied lesser employees of the state and of the great corporations.”

From this evaluation one may conclude that the number of social-democratic camp-followers in 1912 amounted to about 2 million, This figure is probably exaggerated. But one may maintain, without risking the danger of a serious error, that in the last elections (1912) this figure actually did vary between a million and one and a half million.

(To be continued)



1. R. Michels, Zur Sociologie des Parteiwessens in der deutschen Demokratie, Leipzig, 1911. p.270ff. We speak of saloonkeepers, restaurant owners, etc.

2. Even In Austria, where industry is markedly less developed than in Germany, the social democracy received, in the 1911 elections, 36.2 per cent of the total vote cast in the cities, and only 17 per cent of the total cast in the rural sections.

3. A – Agriculture, gardening, forestry, grazing, fishing; B – Mining, foundries, building and construction; C – Commerce, transport, hostelry, refreshments.

4. Among these the better situated worker’s, the so-called “labor aristocracy”, play a big role.

Last updated: 17.6.2008