MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Events



Anti-Socialist Law (1878) [ "Exceptional Law" or "Law of Exclusion" ]

A law which outlawed Socialists and Communist organisations and ideas in Germany.

Bismarck was well aware of the growing power and prospects of the working class ever since he had become Prussian Chancellor in 1862. After the Franco-Prussian War, however, his armies had to contend with the threat of the Paris Commune. Bismarck, a keen opportunist, patiently waited for the impetus to assault a popular movement while being constantly antoganistic but relatively discretely. In 1878, there were two attempts on the life of Kaiser William I; the first was on May 11, by a tin worker named Hodel who fired at but missed the Kaiser. He was executed on August 16 at Moabit. A second attempt was made by Dr. Karl Nobiling who shot and wounded the Kaiser and then shot himself on June 2.

This was the opportunity Bismarck needed (though the Social Democrats had nothing to do with it). The first attempt Bismarck made was defeated in the Reichstag after debate May 23 to 24th, by 251 votes to 57. After the 2nd attempt on the Kaiser however, Bismarck dissolved the Reichstag on June 11, and new elections were held on July 30, at which Bismarck gained 38 seats. On October 18, the new Richstag passed the law by 221 votes to 149. Regardless, the law was put into operation even before it was passed.

The law outlawed all Social-Democratic organisations (the name German Socialists used at the time), all working class organisations, all working class or Socialist presses, and ordered the confiscation of all Socialist literature by the state. Social-Democrats and various other pro-working class groups were arrested and deported. 900 workers were expelled from their homes; 1500 sentenced to various terms of imprisonment; 1300 publications were suspended and 332 organizations of workers were forcibly dissolved.

The Social-Democratic party would not waver under the pressure, however, and adapted itself to underground tactics. The party began publishing the paper Sozial-Demokrat in Switzerland. The party held regular congresses (1880, 1883, and 1887), operating under a Central Committee.

Using what legal means it could, the party strengthed its ties with the workers of Germany, and its influence grew steadily: from 1878 to 1890 the number of votes it polled in the Reichstag elections more than tripled. The mounting pressure of the underground working class coupled with growing popular support repealed the Anti-Socialist law -- the law had been renewed until 1890, when Bismarck was dropped. It was reinstated nearly 40 years later by the Nazis.

Votes for the Social Democratic party, before the law: 1871: 102,000; 1874: 352,000; 1877: 493,000.
After the Anti-Socialist laws: 1881: 312,000; 1884: 550,000 1887: 763,000; 1890: 1,427,000.
When the Laws were repealed: 1,787,000; e.g. over 25% of votes cast.