Eduard Bernstein

My Years of Exile

A bitter winter in Lugano

The winter of 1878-79 was unusually hard in Lugano and the neighbourhood. “Tanta neve! Tanta neve!” cried Prudenza Prati not infrequently, when she brought us our food; and she assured us every time, as though apologising, that it was a long while since Castagnola had seen such a deep fall of snow as there was that winter. But it not only snowed most effectually in Castagnola; for a time there was also a great deal of frost and ice. By the side of our mountain road the little pools were frozen which were made here and there by the water that ran down from the higher parts of the mountain beneath the snow. By midday the water was flowing over the ice and on to the road, so that at night it froze to a glassy surface and made walking downhill a pretty neck-breaking business. It was unpleasant enough for us, since we had abundant reasons for going down into the town as often as possible. This was due to the fact that the winter of 1878-79 promised to be a very hard winter for us from another point of view as well. Only a few days had elapsed since Karl Höchberg and I had settled down in the Casa in Valle when the news reached us that the anti-Socialist Bill [1], accepted by the Reichstag at the third reading, had received the assent of the Federal Council [2], and would immediately be promulgated. On the following day we heard of an application of the Act which exceeded our worst fears. Not only were all pamphlets, etc., published by the Social Democratic publishing-houses prohibited without more ado, no matter how moderate their contents might be; not only were the Social Democratic newspapers mercilessly suspended, although they had endeavoured to conduct themselves in conformity with the Act; but even those broad-sheets were suppressed which, issued from the Social Democratic printing-presses in place of the prohibited newspapers, had been run on non-party lines, and had restricted themselves to the mere reproduction of news. Well might Count Eulenburg declare, from the Government benches, on the occasion of the debate on the Bill, on the 14th of October 1878

“If the Socialist leaders and journalists, Messrs. Liebknecht, Most, and whatever their names may be, are really desirous in future of expounding their aims in a peaceful manner, why do they need the same periodicals as hitherto? It will be a much safer and intelligible symptom if they found other organs with peaceful tendencies, and there is nothing to prevent this.”

But these words were so much empty sound. Now the Act was law, and there was no appeal against it. The Minister’s declaration had been noted only in a few quarters outside Prussia, and the decisive authorities did not trouble themselves in the least about it. At the same time, certain juridical guarantees which had been introduced into the Bill by the left wing of the National Liberals, supported by the Centre and the Progressive Party, proved to be ineffectual on account of the actions of the police. In accordance with the original proposal of the Government, for example, all associations, periodicals, etc., which should give evidence of activities directed toward the undermining of the existing order of the State and Society “in a manner endangering the public peace” were to be prohibited. Lasker and his followers had sought to prevent the arbitrary interpretation of this proposal by replacing the elastic phrase “directed toward the undermining” by the more definite expression “directed toward the overthrow.” But what to their juridical logic appeared to be a rampart against the prohibition of the spread of Socialistic reform was to the logic of the police authorities a mere cobweb, easily swept away. As regards the non-party newspapers published by the Social Democratic Press, the police simply declared that they considered them to be mere continuations of the prohibited journals, for which reason they suspended them.

In this manner the persecuted party was deprived not only of its literature and its Press, but even the co-operative printing-houses, established by arduous efforts, with the aid of the workers’ savings, were suddenly ruined, and those employed in them were left without a crust. The material damage was greatly augmented when suddenly, in November 1878, without the slightest incident having occurred indicative of unrest, the so-called “minor state of siege” provided for by the Act was imposed upon Berlin and its surroundings, and a large number of the Social Democratic Party, most of them fathers of families, were expelled from Berlin and its vicinity.

It may readily be imagined what agitation the telegrams relating to these events caused us, who were members of the party, in our solitary corner of the world, and with what feverish excitement we looked for letters and newspapers from Germany, which might inform us more exactly as to what had happened. The newspapers appearing in Lugano itself left us completely in the lurch in this respect. Professor P—i’s Republicano was devoted entirely to the local political conflict, and the only daily paper published in Lugano, and, I think, in the canton, – the Gazetta Ticinese, a modest little sheet in small folio, – gave the little foreign news that appeared in a concentrated form, reduced to a few lines.

And the dispatch of news from Germany was now attended by peculiar difficulties. It was the season when the Gotthard Pass is for a time impracticable owing to the heavy snows. Many a time the letters and newspapers intended for us lay for days at some posting-station at the foot of the mountain, on the farther side, waiting until the navvies should have cut a road through the snow. At such times the postman, who came up to Casa in Valle only once daily, and was longingly awaited by us, would shout out his “Niente per voi, il Gottardo chiuso “; so that unless we were willing to wait in patience for what the next day should bring forth, there was nothing for it but to make our way down to Lugano in the afternoon, to inquire at the post office whether anything for us had arrived in the meantime, and then to look through the Milanese Secolo and the Journal de Genève for news from Germany. It was almost always bad news that we read there: fresh prohibitions, fresh expulsions, and even arrests. Not a few of those expelled, and those whose businesses had been seriously damaged, or who had been actually left without a livelihood, were people with whom we had been particularly intimate. What was to become of those who had been so harshly treated? and what about the printing-presses? A periodical printing business which is suddenly forbidden to print newspapers is rendered almost completely valueless; its heavy machinery has suddenly become only so much old iron. This was explained in the letters which we so anxiously awaited. From all sides one heard nothing but descriptions of the disasters of one kind or another which had fallen upon the members of our party.

It was only natural that under such circumstances a man like Höchberg, who was well known to the initiated members of the party as a wealthy sympathiser, should receive all sorts of appeals for help. It should be added, to the honour of the party, that such appeals were not altogether too numerous. For the victims of expulsion considerable sums were collected on the spot in working-class circles. These were sufficient to meet the most urgent cases of need, and with few exceptions the excluded persons themselves did their best to relieve the party as promptly as possible of the necessity of providing for them, or at least to facilitate such provision, in which their comrades in the localities to which they had now repaired assisted them to the utmost of their ability. The appeals which reached Höchberg were mostly in respect of business undertakings conducted either by the party itself or by members of the part who were in an exposed position. This meant, as a rule that large amounts of money were needed, but that, for Höchberg, was no reason for refusing his help.

One might even say: Quite the contrary. It soon struck me that Höchberg’s readiness to help increased in proportion to the sum required. If any one applied to him for a small loan – say from fifty to one hundred marks – he ran a considerable risk of refusal. But if any one requested or suggested that he should make a contribution or a loan of £250 to £500, the probability was just as great that the sum would be forthcoming without much delay. When I questioned Höchberg one day as to this apparent contradiction, he replied, not illogically: “People who want to borrow small sums usually come to me when they could obtain help in other ways, but the large sums are applied for in cases of serious necessity, and I do not care to be responsible for refusing them.” In general, he was certainly doing the right thing in so behaving. His refusals of loans to individuals were also due to the fact that he was fairly pessimistic in his opinions of the human race. Although four yearn younger than I, a difference which is usually as important factor at the age we had then attained, he was decidedly my superior in knowledge of the world. It is true that I was born and reared in the capital, but of what we call “the world” I knew nothing except in theory. My father’s trade – he was a railway engine-driver – was responsible for the fact that we had always lived on the outer edge of the city, and since his income was very small, while he was blessed with many children, we could only manage to live in houses built for the poorer classes – for “small people,” as we call them. For this reason I was closely in touch with the poorer classes of society, but my knowledge of humanity remained extremely defective. My judgment was purely sentimental, while Höchberg judged his fellows almost entirely by intellectual criteria. This was one of the reasons why for a long time we did not get into closer spiritual communion, although we never actually lapsed into conflict. Another reason was the fact that our conceptions of the universe were discordant. I adhered to the materialistic conception, and would not hear of any sort of religion; but Höchberg, who was a philosophical idealist, conceded more than a merely historical justification to the metaphysical religions and conceptions of the universe. We should perhaps have succeeded in understanding one another in this connection had not Höchberg, greatly to my chagrin, always declined my repeated challenge to develop his views for once in strict continuity, on the grounds that I should need a philosophical training to understand him; and this I had not received. I was not willing to admit this, for in my opinion at least the basic ideas of a philosophic conception must be capable of representation, so that a non-philosophical person of tolerable education could comprehend them. In the meantime, Höchberg abode by his refusal, so that whenever our conversation turned upon this subject, it always ended in discord.

Later on I had an opportunity of reading a letter of Höchberg’s to Richard Avenarius, with whom he was on terms of friendship, and I saw by this that at that time Höchberg, proceeding from Berkeley and Kant, had arrived at a philosophy which represented the world as a sum of sensations. The argument employed was such as Avenarius, the critic of pure experience, raised strong objections to.

The fact that we were almost the reverse of one another in our opinions of mundane matters, as in the theoretical conception of the universe, caused Höchberg, one day, as I was unpacking a parcel of books, and expressing my enthusiasm for Freiligrath’s poems, to make the remark, which was illuminating in respect of our contradictory opinions: “You are much more religious than I am.”

It is certainly true that one may sometimes discover a religious impulse at the back of hostility towards the ecclesiastical religions. In my case this hostility had hitherto been so extreme that for years no human being, and no consideration for those I loved, could have induced me to sit through a religious service. To me it would have seemed a double falsehood: I should have been untrue to myself, and have given the faithful a false impression. So that once, when some one who was about to be married in church, for whom I ought to have acted as best man, tried to put an acceptable face on the matter by saying, “You may just as well do it we too” – his bride and his family – “are unbelievers,” my rejoinder was, “Then I am all the less likely to do it.” The result was a pretty catastrophe. It was in Castagnola that I at last went to church again, after many, many years. And this is how it happened.

One day we were invited to have midday dinner with the village priest, the brother of our Prudenza Prati. Prudenza had enlarged upon the coming event weeks before it came. Four or five other priests would be visiting her brother – but in speaking of her brother Prudenza never used the words “my brother”; she always said, respectfully, “il prete” (the priest). For good or evil we had to accept the invitation, but at the last moment Höchberg made some excuse and begged me to go alone. I did so, not without a great deal of pressure. To dine with half a dozen Catholic priests- what was the sense of that? For example, how should I behave during the almost inevitable prayers? Byron’s words about dissembling with the power of forty parsons kept ongoing through my head. But my fears proved to be unfounded. Things were not in the least ecclesiastical at the house of the “prete.” Prayer was not mentioned at table; they talked of everything imaginable, but not of heavenly affairs. To my right sat an old patrician lady from the Grison, who was living with her daughter and son-in-law in a villa situated on the mountain not far from Casa in Valle. Below the garden of their villa was a ravine, concerning which this lady told me, when I spoke of the picturesque situation of the villa, that it was a perfect nest of snakes. Her daughter’s children, if they played in the garden, were always in danger of being bitten by vipers, so that they had always to keep an antidote to snake-venom in the house. A priest sitting on my left now joined in the conversation, and related how as a young man he used often to kill snakes – which after a fall of rain would creep out of the walls to sun themselves – with a good blow on the head from a stick, in order to take them home and skin them and have them roasted. They had always provided him with a good savoury supper. This man, who evidently sprang from the poorer classes, told us also all sorts of things about the way in which he had obtained inexpensive titbits for himself in his youth. He spoke fairly good German, which he was learning because he intended, when he had settled down, to go sometime or other to that much-visited place of pilgrimage in the Canton Schwyz, which is honoured by the faithful on account of the monastery of St. Meinrad, and the statue of the Black Virgin, and by unbelievers as the birthplace of that mystical philosopher and pioneer in medical science, Theophrastus Paracelsus vom Hohenheim.

Directly after the meal was ended we were informed that the afternoon service was about to begin in the little church beside the presbytery, and that every one was free to attend it or not. I decided to attend it, since as a foreigner and a non-Catholic no one could doubt that the object of my attendance was merely to witness the service as a guest; meanwhile aliquid haerebat. In the mountain village, with its scattered houses, and a population to whom any intellectual stimulus was as good as unknown, it seemed to me that the church was less repugnant to common sense than in the capital, with its abundant possibilities of rationalistic intellectual improvement, and its churchgoers who attended worship out of sheer conventionality.

But let us return to Casa in Valle. The fortnightly review, Die Zukunft, edited by Karl Höchberg, was very soon prohibited under the anti-Socialist laws, although it was devoted merely to the statement and development of Socialistic doctrines, and endeavoured above all to base these doctrines upon ethical principles, avoiding all discussions of the political events and questions of the day. With the disappearance of this periodical, the greater part of the activities for which Höchberg had engaged me were abolished; meanwhile the editorial correspondence was replaced by correspondence with comrades in the centre of the movement relating to the mitigation of the distress which the anti-Socialist laws had inflicted and were still inflicting upon individuals, and the damage they had done and were still doing to business. Apart from this, Höchberg was not inclined to accept the suppression of Die Zukunft without protest. Of course, it was useless to expect a removal of the prohibition from the so-called Imperial Commission, which was appointed as a court of appeal against the enactments of the police authorities under the Act. The members of this Commission, drawn from the higher magistracy, appeared to have been appointed merely for the purpose of finding arguments to uphold the prohibitions imposed by the police. Only when an overzealous police official suppressed the volume on Die Quintessenz des Socialismus, by the Swabian Professor and sometime Austrian Cabinet Minister, A.E. Schaffle, did the Imperial Commission undo this stroke of genius and remove the prohibition.

This volume of Schaffle’s, published in 1874, for the benefit of the educated public, was impartially written, if it was not an absolutely correct representation of the Socialist doctrine as then understood. It was no excuse nor apology, yet in spite of a few incidentally critical remarks it was not a hostile criticism of Socialism. Höchberg, who was particularly anxious to gain adherents for the cause in academic and cultivated circles, now decided to endeavour to do this by the wholesale distribution of Schaffle’s treatise; for he was persuaded that people with a fully developed sense of justice had only to learn more of Socialism in order to become warmly interested in it. Having obtained Schaffle’s consent, he therefore ordered no less than 10,000 copies of the Quintessence of Socialism from the publisher, which we had forwarded, with the help of all sorts of directories, lists of addresses, etc., to budding and officiating lawyers, doctors, professors, etc., all over Germany.

These volumes cannot have made an excessive number of converts, but as regards some of those who received them, the seed may have fallen on good soil, and in any case this was a first step towards the revival of Socialist propaganda under the ban of the “exceptional laws.” Not contented with distributing Schaffle’s little book in Germany, Höchberg also got Benoît Malon to translate it into French, with the assistance of Mme Malon, at his expense.

For the German public he now founded a scientific periodical, which was published by a Zurich publishing house under the title of Jahrbuch der Socialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik, and edited by Dr. Ludwig Richter. The first half-volume was scarcely published when this too fell under the ban of the anti-Socialist laws. If the authorities who decreed the prohibition had read the book a little more closely and with a little intelligence they would have thought twice before putting it on the Index, for it contained concessions to the critics of Social Democracy which evoked a great deal of ill-feeling in the Socialist camp.

All this was still in embryo when Höchberg paid a visit to Germany in January 1879, in order to investigate the new conditions on the spot. This journey was to teach him a lesson for which he was not prepared. He remained for a few days in Berlin; and on the second, or, at latest, the third day of his visit, he, received an order from the prefecture of police to the effect that he was expelled from Berlin under § 28 of the anti-Socialist laws, and must leave the city within so many hours. The paragraph referred to provided for the expulsion of “Persons from whom danger to the public order or security is to be feared.”

The quiet scholar, whose ideology was based wholly upon ethics, was a danger to the public “order or security” of the capital

Now Höchberg had made the acquaintance of the prefect of the Berlin police, Herr von Madai, as he had formerly been prefect in Frankfurt, and had not disdained to avail himself of frequent invitations to dinner at the houses of the Frankfurt bankers. It was in such society that Höchberg had met him. He now called upon him, and requested to be told how it was that he was threatened with expulsion; what he was supposed to have done in Berlin that was contrary to law and order, that such a measure should be evoked against him. “Oh,” was the reply, “of course you haven’t done anything directly inimical to order. But you have been in the company of Messrs. A, B, and C, and they are people whom we know to be Socialists, who used to belong to the ‘Mohren Club,’ and possibly still belong to it.” The “Mohren Club” was the name adopted by a group of Socialists, most of them present or past students, who in the winter of 1877 and the spring of 1878 used to meet weekly in the Mohren-Strasse (Street of the Moors), for purposes of social entertainment, and for the discussion of theoretical questions; and some of them continued their meetings, which were not in any way culpable, even after the promulgation of the anti-Socialist laws. Because Höchberg, who had repeatedly been a guest of the Club, had called upon some of its individual members, who had not themselves been regarded as sufficiently dangerous to merit expulsion, he had suddenly been ordered to leave the city, without examination or trial, and his expulsion had been announced in the Press. This exploit on the part of the police was probably undertaken with the idea of punishing a wealthy Socialist for the support which he had obtained for the outlawed party; but the reports as to Höchberg’s intercourse with the Socialists had undoubtedly been furnished by a student who turned out, later on, to have been bought by the police.

After Höchberg’s return from Germany it soon became obvious that we should not be able to continue living in Casa in Valle. His health was becoming visibly worse, and his energies were diminishing more and more as a result of his starvation diet. Since no amount of preaching could avail to wean him from it, I tried finally to do so by a coup d’état. One day Höchberg came to me with a telegram in his hand, and said excitedly: “Good God, my brother is coming to Lugano! I must do everything I can to recover strength; I can’t receive him in this condition.” I appeared to be as surprised as I could, but in reality my only feeling was one of satisfaction. A letter from myself to Dr. Karl Flesch, in which I explained the state of affairs, and declared that assistance was urgently necessary, had not remained without effect. Flesch had put me into communication with Höchberg’s younger brother, and the latter had forthwith decided to come to Lugano himself, on the ingenious pretext of a necessary business visit to Milan. As one result of his visit Höchberg at once made some alteration in his manner of living; and he then began seriously to consider the question of removing to some other locality. The climate of Lugano had not turned out to be so mild as he had anticipated; but the delays in the postal service were even more disturbing. We ought at once to settle down in some part of Switzerland where there was a better postal connection with Germany.

To me this was not particularly welcome. I had gradually advanced so far in the Italian language that a few months longer in an Italian-speaking country would have enabled me to speak Italian with a fair degree of facility. To discontinue the use of the language suddenly at this stage would mean that I should be in danger of forgetting the little I had picked up; and this apprehension proved to be only too well founded.

Moreover, the spring was returning, and the luxurious vegetation of Lugano was breaking forth with increasing vigour. Even by the end of March the camellias were beginning to bloom in the open air; in the terraced hillside garden of the Villa Riva camellia bushes of prodigious dimensions were now a splendour of blossoms. At the same time the fruit trees of the lower slopes of Monte Bré were beginning to blossom, which greatly increased the charm of the view over mountain and lake from Casa in Valle. Some fifty yards below our house they were beginning to build a Villa; lighters brought lime and stone from various parts to the beach, and working women carried the material in baskets up the winding paths of the mountainside. Coming up they naturally walked slowly, step by step, bent in silence beneath their heavy loads; but going down with empty baskets most of them sang verses of one of their folk-songs, in the long-drawn minor tones peculiar thereto; and it was a most fascinating sight to see them wandering light-footed down the winding track. All these things combined to make it difficult for me to tear myself away from Castagnola.

It was a consolation that we were going to Geneva. But I was not thinking of the beauty of the countryside surrounding Geneva, and even its more stirring political life seemed to me at first of secondary importance; I was thinking chiefly, in a wholly crude and utilitarian fashion, of the possibilities of perfecting myself in another foreign language – namely, the French. But this was not to be. Höchberg did indeed go to Geneva in order to look for lodgings there, while I stayed at home packing trunks and boxes against our removal. Then suddenly a telegram arrived: “We are going to Zurich, come on there as quickly as possible.” I was flabbergasted; my hopes were dashed to the ground. I had conceived an absurd prejudice against Zurich as the result of a passing remark made by an acquaintance of mine; I had no suspicion that the friendly city on the Limmat would grow so dear to my heart that it seems to me even to-day like another home. However, there was no choice, and since the Gotthard Pass was once more blocked – this time by a spring snowfall – I travelled by way of Milan, Turin, and Geneva to the Swiss Athens, which was to be my dwelling-place for nine years. I entered Zurich with much the same feelings as those which the patriarch Jacob must have experienced when he sought Rachel for his wife and was given Leah.



1. Literally, “Exceptional legislation against Social Democracy.” – (Trans.)

2. Bundesrat. – (Trans.)


Last updated on 29.1.2003