Eduard Bernstein

My Years of Exile

Secret congresses and banishment from Switzerland

DURING my residence in Zürich the three Congresses took place which German Social-Democracy, under the ban of the anti-Socialist laws, held in a foreign country. To them, and to my banishment from Switzerland after the last of these Congresses, I feel that I ought to devote a chapter of these recollections. But first I must make a few remarks concerning the personality of the remarkable man whose colleague I became upon taking over the editorship of the Sozialdemokrat, and whose name has lately been recalled to the memory of the general public by his son. I refer to the father of my parliamentary colleague and fellow-Socialist, Karl Liebknecht: to Wilhelm Liebknecht, who performed such notable services in connection with the foundation and development of Social Democracy.

Liebknecht was, as has already been mentioned, the German editor of the Sozialdemokrat. When I became the Zürich editor, he was serving a sentence of many months’ imprisonment. Soon after his discharge, however, he came to spend four or five weeks in Zürich, in order to discuss editorial matters with me, and at the same time to recover from the effects of his imprisonment. Recover is, perhaps, not the right word; for there was no sign of physical weakness to be observed in this thoroughly healthy man. But he wanted to breathe the free air for a time, and he had certainly fully earned the holiday which he was taking to this end.

In these four weeks, and during the further visits which Liebknecht paid us afterwards, as well as by our exchange of letters, I had abundant opportunity to become more closely acquainted with him. Above all, I learned to marvel at his powers of work. His intellectual elasticity was amazing. I do not think that he had read very much, or very intensively, and in theory he was in those days no longer my teacher, for I had made a profound study of the Marxist doctrine, of which he could not be reckoned an exponent. By intellectual tendency Liebknecht was rather a Socialist of the French school, and he reminded one of the French by his style also, which was rich in brilliant, concise, and striking phrases and pointed antitheses. He was a much greater master of form than his colleague, August Bebel, whose strength lay in the matter of his speeches, and was quite peculiarly at home in the history of the French Revolution, as regards the treatment of which he was influenced by Michelet. I happened to ask him, during this visit, whether he could not write me, for the anniversary of the 10th of August, an article on the storming of the Tuileries (1792). “Certainly,” he replied; “you shall have it.” So saying, he went to his room, and brought me, an hour later, without having referred to any books, a strikingly powerful article which filled the whole of the front page of the Soxialdemokrat for 11th of August 1881. He could write articles or polemical reviews under the most difficult circumstances: in a railway carriage, in a room full of loudly talking people, and once I even saw him working at an article while he was acting as chairman of a by no means peaceable meeting. As a speaker, too, he was by no means dependent upon preparation. The best speech I ever heard him deliver was wholly an improvisation.

From Wilhelm Liebknecht his son inherited this readiness of intellectual orientation. And not this alone; in his whole political attitude Karl Liebknecht was the true son of his father. This is plainly apparent if we compare the younger Liebknecht, not with the party veteran, working on established party lines, but with Wilhelm at his own age, working under similar conditions. Karl Marx once spoke in a letter to Friedrich Engels of “our Liebknecht’s” unbounded optimism. The expression was justified, but it does not completely describe the intellectual trait to which it refers. With this optimism was intimately connected, perhaps as one of its prime ingredients, a curious unconcern as to what might befall him personally, and an indifference to formal rules. Wilhelm Liebknecht not infrequently followed spontaneous inspirations, without protracted consideration; he announced to his age what to him was the truth, regardless of consequences, thereby evoking stormy scenes in Parliament; and his arbitrary behaviour often brought him into conflict with his political friends. This tendency towards self-will was not to be attributed to a calculated aiming at effect; it was the complementary quality of the spirit which enabled Wilhelm Liebknecht, in situations where all about him were given up to the intoxication of success, or about to surrender to it, to oppose this intoxication in the interest of humanity. Those who wish to understand Karl Liebknecht rightly must study the character and the actions of his father. (Written in 1917 when Liebknecht was arrested.)

As a private individual, Wilhelm Liebknecht, as far as his own person was concerned, was thoroughly unassuming, without for that reason being an ascetic. He could carry a good cargo of drink, but was as a rule perfectly temperate. At a banquet, or when dining with friends, he was a hearty eater, but was none the less easily content with very modest fare. He once told me, when he had just been released from prison, that he found his prison diet extremely good, and it repeatedly happened, when he took a glass of beer with us, that he would praise a good brew as pompos – splendid. It was a passion with him to wander through the open country, and, since he found a companion of like tastes in myself, we had many a walk together on the Zürichberg and the other heights about the city. I, on my side, urged him in those days to take up again the noble art of swimming, which he told me he had not practised for quite twenty years. He promptly bustled into the lake like a fish returning to the water, and one day he, Julius Motteler, and to some extent I myself, brought to shore, by our united efforts, a man on the point of drowning, who had already lost consciousness.

So much for the soldier of the Revolution, as Wilhelm Liebknecht had styled himself when in 1872 he was brought to trial in Leipzig for high treason, for which reason he was given the nickname of “the Soldier” first, I think, by me. And now for the Congresses.

More than for any other political party, assemblies of delegates, or congresses, are for a democratic party a necessity of life; for only at such or by such congresses can the problems of the inner life of the party, its direction, and its policy be determined in a peaceable manner. Since the anti-Socialist laws then made it impossible for Social Democracy to hold such Congresses within the Empire, it was necessary, as long as these laws were in force, to hold them abroad. And even so all sorts of prudential rules had to be observed. The visitors to the Congress had to be insured against political consequences, and the Congress itself against undesired participators. While the convening of a democratic representative body makes it necessary to warn the members far and wide of the fact of the Congress, the most absolute secrecy must be observed as to the place and the precise date of the assembly, and all sorts of other details. In the face of the close attention which the police vouchsafed to all the proceedings of Social Democracy, it was no easy problem to satisfy both these requirements. But it always was solved in so far that in spite of their widespread vigilance the police always obtained particulars of the Congress only after it had met.

Perhaps the greatest surprise was provided for the police – and not for them only – by the first of these secret Congresses. It was held on Swiss territory, from the 20th to 23rd of August 1880, and everything possible was done to give it a romantic character. Since the leaders of the party, who were known to everybody, had to put in an appearance, it was decided that they could not be allowed to assemble in any of the larger Swiss cities. The simultaneous appearance of Bebel, Liebknecht, Hasenclever, Auer, Grillenberger, Fritsche, Vahlteich, and others would have made the discovery of the Congress much too easy for the loitering and expectant detectives. A half-ruined country-seat, which was offered for sale, some distance from the great international traffic routes, and not far from the market-town of Ossingen in Canton Zürich – Schloss Wyden – was judged a fit place to harbour the representatives of the party for a few days. For this purpose it was rented from the owner for a week, while he was informed that the sick benefit clubs and burial clubs of the German Labour associations in Switzerland were about to hold their general meeting there, a statement in which the good man saw nothing suspicious. The spacious banqueting-hall of the “castle” – once known as the Knight’s Hall – was arranged as an assembly-room, the kitchen was sufficiently equipped, so that the wife of a comrade from St. Gallen, together with a cook whom she had enlisted, could provide for the feeding of the delegates, and since there was no room in the castle that was servicable, one of the small outbuildings, which otherwise might have been used as a stable or a granary, was adapted, by means of a quantity of straw, to serve as a dormitory for the participators in the Congress. For Ossingen could not afford sufficient apartments to lodge the delegates, nor was it thought advisable that any considerable number of delegates should stay there, since this might easily have given the peasants and farmers occasion to inquire somewhat more precisely into the proceedings at the castle. It was essential that they should see as little of the Congress as possible. However, the delegates appointed in Zürich, or by the party leaders in Germany, were not sent direct to Ossingen; they merely received instructions to repair to a certain tavern in Winterthur, near the railway station, on the appointed day. There their mandates would receive a preliminary examination, and they would then be informed of their actual destination. Thus, on the afternoon of the 20th August 1880, they reached Schloss Wyden unobserved, and were able to devote two days to their deliberations without the interference of any outside persons. Reliable comrades acted as outposts, so that the Congress should run no risk of being surprised. Only on the last day of the session the Statthalter of the Andelfing district, in which Ossingen was situated, announced himself, and asked for an explanation of what we were doing in the Schloss. Since the object of the Congress was already essentially accomplished, the Statthalter, who was a member of the Democratic Party of Zürich, was told the whole truth of the matter, and given permission to attend the session, which offer, however, he declined. All that the peasantry of Ossingen wanted to know, when the Congress was over, and a large number of delegates appeared in the taverns of the town, was “whether the gentlemen were going to have a procession as well.” A Congress without a procession was evidently, to them, an execution without a criminal.

The general public was first informed of the holding of the Congress by a notice in the newspapers which the party representatives had themselves given to the Press, and which was correspondingly embellished. Meanwhile the reality had been much more impressive than the highly coloured notice would have given one to suppose. Certainly the conditions under which the Congress was held were romantic enough, even though the account which the newspapers provided for the Philistines was a trifle overdrawn:

“Not one of the secret inmates of the Castle was seen outside its doors, excepting only the watchmen, who barred the road to the Castle, and, being warned by a sentry on the tower, allowed no one to approach.”

The sentry on the tower was, of course, a creation of the imagination, and the outposts could not have forbidden any one to pass; while the delegates did not refrain from leaving the Schloss in the intervals between proceedings, lying about on the neighbouring hillsides, from which one obtained an enchanting view of the surrounding landscape, or going for walks through the fields and meadows. However, what made the Congress unforgettable to those who took part in it was the spirit which inspired its transactions and the whole assembly.

This was the first great meeting of the party for three years. The terrible months of the summer of 1878, when the attempt on the Emperor’s life was made, with their heavy sentences upon Socialists, the incubus of the anti-Socialist laws, the dissolution of the Social Democratic organisations, and the suppression of their Press had for the time being sapped the external strength of the party, and had caused great confusion in its ranks. But now it was clearly demonstrated that the nucleus of the party was unharmed, and among the faithful the sense of solidarity had been merely reinforced. Only three of the fifty-six delegates to the Wyden Congress showed a certain inclination toward the two former party leaders, Most and Hasselmann, who as Social Revolutionists had thrown down a challenge to the party from abroad; but even they did not care to go so far as to approve of a breach with the party. There were lively debates at Wyden, and various measures were sharply criticised by the party representatives. However, the general tone of the proceedings was free from any animosity or even irritability. The preponderating spirit was one of delight, which was continually finding some fresh expression, that despite the lapse of time such a large number of delegates had assembled, and were able to speak in absolute mutual confidence of all that had been oppressing their minds. Persecution had only increased the solidarity of the persecuted, and the certainty that the struggle would now be carried on with unshaken resolution put us all in the best of tempers. This meant that we were able to see the humorous side of all the inconveniences which we had had to suffer, and any one who in speaking employed too bold an image, or entangled himself in a false construction, might be sure that his performance would be perpetuated in an improvised contribution to a satirical Kongresszeitung (Congress Times), among whose illustrators were Karl Kautsky and the late Karl Grillenberger. The intemperate attacks which Johann Most was fond of delivering upon his erstwhile comrades in arms in the London Freiheit were here subjected to an ironical criticism, verbal and artistic. Whether it was strictly necessary to declare Most and Hasselmann, after the close of the Congress, as excluded from the party, after they had already in fact left it, might be disputed; such resolutions always leave an unpleasant after-taste when political differences are in question. But Johann Most richly deserved the satirical verses published in the Congress Times, for from London he preached a revolutionism which he must have known was impracticable in Germany as it was in those days. The spirit which prevailed at the Congress ensured the unanimous acceptation of the motion to strike out the word “lawful” from the clause in the party programme – the so-called Gothaer programme – which stated that the party would enforce its demands and aims “by all lawful means.” Naturally, after the party had been outlawed it could not confine itself to lawful means in its propagandist and political activities. But the deletion of the word “lawful” changed the phrase into “by all means” and that allowed of a much wider interpretation. That the party did not shrink from this interpretation was the defiant rejoinder to the policy of force to which it had been subjected. The reader will therefore be able to judge of the satisfaction with which the following poem in the aforesaid Kongresszeitung was received


Es steht ein Schloss im Schweizerland,
Da wird an den Staaten gerüttelt,
Da wird der Umsturz zu Recht erkannt,
Da wird nicht gesetzlich “ gemittelt.”

Der helle Kommunismus blüht,
Man isst and trinkt gemeinsam,
Des Nachts das Volk zum Schlafhaus zieht,
Um nicht zu-ruhen einsam.

Der tolle Haus, der Fehde blies,
Hier wird er abgeschlachtet,
Und in der Verachtung Burgverlies
Da wird er eingeschachtet.

Die rote Republik, sie wacht
An unseres Schlosses Pforte.
Wer hätt in London das gedacht
Von der – Bedientenhorde! [1]

Of the flowers of speech singled out for attention, one made a particular impression upon me, and may be here recorded. It fell from the lips of a youthful and fiery delegate from Swabia, who exclaimed: “Comrades, we must not allow ourselves to be carried away by patience!”

Those delegates who had come from Germany returned thither by various routes after the close of the Congress, and not one of them was arrested at the frontier. On the, other hand, several of them carried back forbidden literature to the Fatherland. It was bound round their bodies, like so much armour-plating, by Motteler, who was very adroit in these matters.

With the second secret Congress of the Social Democratic Party things did not go so smoothly. It was held in Copenhagen, in 1883. It was not discovered by the German police, greatly though they had in the meantime increased their secret service of spies for the benefit of our party. We had already been occupied in the work of the Congress for several days, in the fine assembly-hall of the Clubhouse of the Danish Social Democratic Party, when the agents of the political police of Herr von Puttkamer, who had been the Minister specially entrusted with the execution of the anti-Socialist laws, were still trying to get on the track of our meeting-place on the Swiss frontier, and in various parts of Switzerland, the Sozialdemokrat having announced that a Congress had been convened. But on this occasion the proceedings lasted nearly a week, and it was impossible to keep so long the secret of a Congress held in the capital of Denmark in which so many well-known persons were taking part. On the morning after the fourth day of the Congress most of us were visited in our quarters by the Danish police, who had got wind of the meeting. Thereby a quite undeserved honour was paid me, and I should like now to relieve my conscience recording it.

In order to avoid making an altogether overlong circuit from Zürich to Copenhagen, I had been obliged to cross Germany from south to north. Since I had by that time become editor of the Sozialdemokrat, my arrest on German soil would have entailed the greatest inconvenience, not only to myself, but also to the party; so that, among other precautions, I provided myself with a false passport. In Copenhagen I was staying with Auer, Grillenberger, and four other comrades in a modest hotel in the Vesterbro Gade, whose proprietor was a Social Democrat. The seven of us were sleeping in two communicating rooms, four in the first, and three – myself among them – in the second room. On the morning of the fateful day I was awakened from sleep by a knocking on the outer door, and presently heard the following conversation:

POLICE COMMISSARY (by the first bed): “What is your name?”

AUER: “Ignaz Auer.”

THE POLICE COMMISSARY: “Have you entered your name on this list?”

AUER: “Yes.”

THE POLICE COMMISSARY: “But there’s no Auer here. What name did you enter?”

AUER: “Johannes Sorensen.”

POLICE COMMISSARY: “Why did you write a false name?”

AUER: “So that no one should know that I was here.”

POLICE COMMISSARY: “You are holding a Congress here?”

AUER: “I am here with some friends.”

POLICE COMMISSARY: “Yes; but you are holding a Congress.”

AUER: “Call it what you like.”

The Police Commissary enters various things in his book, and moves on to the second bed, in which Karl Grillenberger lies, putting the same questions.)

THE POLICE COMMISSARY (at the second bed): “What is your name?”

GRILLENBERGER: “Karl Grillenberger.”

POLICE COMMISSARY: “Under what name are you entered on this list?”

GRILLENBERGER: “Olaf Petersen.”

And so on. All of us who had come from Germany had entered Danish names on the hotel’s list of guests. So at six of the beds the same conversation was held. Finally the Commissary came to my bed, when the conversation was not the same.

COMMISSARY: “What is your name?”

I: “Conrad Conzett.”

COMMISSARY: “Under what name are you entered here?”

“Under my own name”

COMMISSARY (Surprised): “Under your own name?”

I (Very dignified): “Certainly, under my own name.”

COMMISSARY (looks at the list, and finds the name – still suspiciously); “Have you papers of legitimisation?”

I (still more dignified): “Why, yes, here they are.”

The Commissary examines the passport made out in the name of my Swiss party comrade Conzett, reads the personal description, finds that it corresponds with my personal appearance (and with whose personal appearance would a passport description fail to agree?), and makes his departure, bowing profoundly, and apparently telling himself, the “At least one respectable man among the lot!” And this is just where I took him in.

Fortunately, I had illustrious predecessors in matter of using false passports. When, in the reactionary period of 1848-49 the Prussian Minister, Manteuffel, was one day travelling from Hamburg to London, he encountered on deck Lothar Bucher, who refused to pay taxes, and was then living in exile. It was impossible to avoid a brief conversation. “How do YOU come here?” asked the omnipotent Prussian of the fugitive political offender. “I’ve been spending a few days at home,” Was the reply. “What in Prussia?” “Certainly, in Prussia,” rejoined Bucher. “But how did you get into Prussia, since you had no passport?” “I have no passport? Of course I have a passport. You yourself saw to it that I received one.” “How so?” “I will tell you. Thanks to your wise instructions as regards passports, I can buy any Prussian passport in London for five shillings, whenever I need it.” And in fact, during the whole period when every one leaving or entering Prussia had to obtain a passport, there was in London a brisk sale for these documents. The regulations were a burden to the inoffensive public, but they could hardly have prevented a single political or common criminal from crossing the frontier. The secret of drawing up descriptions that could only refer to one particular individual had not then been discovered. Conrad Conzett was taller and broader than I, and had quite different features, yet to the Danish Commissary his personal description appeared to fit me.

The Danish police authorities behaved fairly well, however, in respect of our Congress. They only demanded a guarantee that we would abstain from any agitation in Denmark, and in other respects left us unmolested to the end. Meanwhile, the news of the Congress reached Berlin, and Police Councillor Krüger himself, in whose hands were collected the threads of the whole of the German detective service, came rushing post-haste to Copenhagen, but all in vain. When he arrived, the birds were already flown. The only result was that six of the returning delegates, among them the Reichstag members, Georg von Vollmar, Louis Viereck, Karl Ulrich, and Karl Frohme, were arrested in Kiel, and Ignaz Auer, August Bebel, and Heinrich Dietz on the following day in Neumünster, and were examined by the police, so that later on, when after prolonged research a competent tribunal was discovered, they might be tried on a charge of forming a secret society, when six of them were sentenced to nine and three to six months’ imprisonment.

I was more fortunate. With Auer, Bebel, Dietz, and Richard Fischer I had repaired, two days after the close of the Congress, to Korsör, on the west coast of the island of Zeeland, where we intended to draft the report of the proceedings in a form suitable for publication. We put up at a passably decent hotel, and had just taken our places at a large table, when a waiter entered with a telegram in his hand, and asked whether it was directed to any of our party. It was addressed in a somewhat laconic fashion to “Eduard Bernstein, Korsör.” I had entered myself on the Visitors’ List as Conzett; but without reflecting I explained that the telegram was intended for me, took it, and opened it. It had fallen into the right hands. It came from Kiel, and contained only three words, which were eloquent enough: “Vorsicht, nichts mitnehmen” (Careful, bring nothing with you). Of course we knew what that meant. Something had happened in Kiel which showed that the frontier was not clear. By no means, therefore, must any of us cross the frontier with the report or any other writings referring to the Congress in his pocket. But Bebel further declared, and the rest of us agreed without demur, that I must not, on any account, travel through Germany, but must return to Switzerland by way of England and France. I did not raise any objection to this, since the voyage to London would make it possible for me to look up Friedrich Engels, with whom I was at that time carrying on a fairly animated correspondence. But my arrangements had to be altered.

That same evening I returned to Copenhagen, and there saw the announcement, in an evening newspaper, that the deputies to the Reichstag, Vollmar and Frohme, with several other Social Democrats, had been arrested at Kiel on their way home from a Socialistic Congress. Next morning, accordingly, I immediately looked up my Danish comrades and inquired of them the quickest route to England, and on the advice of one of them I travelled two days later right across Denmark in a slanting direction, to the west coast of Jutland, in order to take the boat to Harwich from the newly opened port of Esbjerg. But my adviser had made a mistake as to the time-table. I found no vessel at Esbjerg that took passengers for England, and I should have had to wait five days before I could travel by the prescribed route. I was the less inclined to decide upon this course in that there was no one in the hotel at which I had put up who could speak any language that I could understand. So the next day I crossed Jütland once more, stopping for twelve hours at Fredericia on the Little Belt, and then returned home across Germany after all; since, in the meantime, as I rightly guessed at the last moment, the frontier would again have become practicable as far as I was concerned. No policeman, but only friend August Bebel surprised me on this homeward journey. At Hamburg, as I was waiting for the train, he clapped me on the shoulder with the words: “In the name of the Law!”

As regards getting a glimpse of “the people at home,” my journey was somewhat unfruitful. However, I had had the opportunity of becoming to some extent acquainted with the handsome capital city of Denmark, and, as I have mentioned, I spent half a day in the little fortified city of Fredericia. I was delighted with Copenhagen, but I really had not the mental leisure fully to do justice to its fine museums and buildings. My entire faculties were at that time absorbed by the political movement, and it was more incumbent upon me to discuss domestic conditions with various comrades who had come from Germany, whom I should not otherwise have managed to see, than to improve my knowledge of the works of art which Copenhagen contains in such profusion. On the day after the close of the Congress, our Danish friends took us over Rosenburg Castle; but its chambers and costly contents impressed me rather as curiosities, the more so as they had to compensate for a projected visit to the Thorwaldsen Museum, for which I had no further leisure. One day I was the guest of the man whom my Danish comrades then regarded as their leader, and pointed out to me as “their Bebel.” This was the Socialist tailor, P. Holm, a friendly individual with an intelligent expression; but in conversation he displayed little of Bebel’s acuteness, seeming to be shrewd rather than eminently talented. Hardly of medium height, and inclined to stoutness, he had little of the Scandinavian about him. However, there was no lack of men of the genuine Viking build among the Danish Socialists with whom we came into contact.

The trial of the nine arrested German delegates to the Copenhagen Congress was concluded on the 4th of August 1886. It took place before the Assize Court of Freiberg, and the accused were sentenced to the terms of imprisonment already noted. Only after much trouble, and with the co-operation of the Supreme Court of the Empire, was it possible to devise a charge upon which a verdict could be based. The Supreme Court had been forced to recognise that the holding of a meeting abroad did not constitute the formation of a criminal secret society. It decided, however, that a criminal charge might be based upon conclusive actions which were not entailed in the mere act of meeting, and as such a conclusive action it pointed to the fact that a representative of the prohibited Sozialdemokrat had presented a report to the Congress dealing with that journal’s distribution and finances. But as a judgment was made possible in this fashion the Social Democrats had unwittingly been given a hint as to how they could in future convene a Congress abroad without exposing themselves to such penal consequences. When the judgment was proved to be valid, the official connection between the party and Sozialdemokrat was at once dissolved, and after the condemned leaders had served their sentences a summons was published in the German newspapers signed by the whole Socialist group in the Reichstag, which without circumlocution invited the members of the party to send delegates to a Congress, without further mention of the precise time or place of assembly, until on a prearranged date – the 15th of September – these were punctually communicated to the appointed delegates.

This Congress, of which even the order of the day and the names of the reporters were published in the preliminary notice, was once more held in Switzerland. It met on the 3rd of October 1887, in the hall of the Schönwegen Brewery near St. Gallen. Although it was considerably better attended than the two previous Congresses, on this occasion also the German police learned of the place of assembly only after it had been opened for some days; and even then they obtained their earliest information from the reports published by the Social Democratic Party; for Congress now issued current reports of its proceedings for the benefit of the Press. Moreover, members of the Swiss Social Democratic Party who occupied prominent positions were present during the proceedings, so that an accusation that a meeting of a secret society had been held would have been untenable. Not a word was said in Congress of the Zürich Sozialdemokrat. It concerned itself only with general questions of politics and social policy, but with a reviving emphasis as regards its strict and indomitable enmity toward the Government and the ruling classes. In particular it declared, in a resolution moved by Ignaz Auer, its inexorable hostility to the economic policy of Prince Bismarck, with its fostering of indirect taxation, as well as the monopolising for financial purposes of important articles of popular consumption.

The successful outcome of the Congress made a great impression on the public. It was a slap in the face for the Bismarck-Puttkamer police system; not only in the eyes of the working classes, but also in those of the youth of the intellectual classes, Social Democracy had visibly gained in moral significance. In order to return the blow, Bismarck laid before the Reichstag the draft of a new penal law, which was to exceed all “exceptional legislation” hitherto introduced in its lust of persecution. According to this law participation in congresses held abroad which served to further Social Democratic efforts, participation in secret combinations or associations, and the “ businesslike distribution “ of prohibited literature would be punished, not only by imprisonment, but also by the medieval measure of proscription – outlawry – expatriation.

And this monstrous proposal, whose execution and penalties would run counter to all modern conceptions of justice, had apparently a good prospect of becoming law. In February 1887, after the Reichstag had been dissolved on account of the question of a new demand for a seven years’ military service, fresh elections tool place, at which the pretended danger of a war with France was exploited by means of an inundation of pamphlets and broadsheets, whose exaggerated language was unprecedented. A coalition of Conservatives, Imperialists, and National Liberals obtained a majority, and in most cases this Coalition Party willingly placed itself at Bismarck’s disposal, even for his legislation. It really looked for a time as if the expatriation proposal would obtain a majority.

But then a happy chance assisted Social Democracy to strike a counter-blow which safeguarded it against this “exceptional law”: some one who had an opportunity of looking into the records of the Berlin Secret Police gave the deputy Singer a list of the agents of the political police. The list found its way to Zürich and was used in order to surprise some of the persons named in it, the persons affected confessing more, in their confusion, than they would otherwise have done. And Paul Singer, at the first reading of the projected law in the Reichstag, was able to present a document which afforded unexceptionable proof that agents of the Berlin police in Zürich and Geneva were expressly urged by their superiors to ply the unclean trade of agents provocateurs. This meant that people had even been incited to commit outrages, and Anarchists of a dangerous type had been abetted in their intended acts of violence. In the case of one of these agents in the pay of the Berlin police, a man by the name of Schröder, the Zürich police, on making a domiciliary visit, discovered a chest of dynamite, and it was established that Schröder had presided at a conference of Anarchists, at which outrages were advocated, some of which were actually perpetrated. The impression produced by these revelations was so crushing, and produced such a great effect upon the public, that the Reichstag contented itself with merely postponing further consideration of the projected anti-Socialist laws, while the clause relating to expatriation, being supported only by a dwindling minority, was expunged. This was in February 1888. The Minister responsible for the “exceptional legislation,” Puttkamer, who had spoken in favour of this proposal, suffered a serious defeat. But as on an earlier occasion, he and his unmasked police agents obtained, to make use of the expression which he employed, a “brilliant compensation.” On this occasion Paul Singer, after he had unmasked an agent provocateur working in Berlin, was expelled from the capital, and thereby compelled to retire from the firm which he had founded. And it so happened that two months after the exposure of the Puttkamer detective organisation and its economic methods, in April 1888, the Bundesrat of the Swiss Confederacy banished from Switzerland the editor of the Sozialdemokrat (myself), the business manager and dispatcher (Julius Motteler), the manager of the Publishing Department (Hermann Schlüter), and the manager of the Printing Department (Leonhard Tauscher). In respect of the accusation immediately made by Swiss citizens that it had complied with pressure exercised from Berlin, the Bundesrat solemnly protested that it had only followed its own well-considered promptings, and as far as the official proceedings were concerned this may well have been the case. There are many ways of suggesting a desired course of action. The Socialdemokrat, of which a weekly edition of nearly 12,000 copies now found its way into the German Empire, had put the Bismarck-Puttkamer system to very great inconvenience, and indirectly, of course, had caused the Swiss Federal Council a good deal of unpleasantness. Thus it was by no means difficult for an intermediary by means of hints at the dissatisfaction caused by the fact that Switzerland was given over to a “brood of revolutionary conspirators inimical to the Empire,” to generate that frame of mind in Bundesrat circles in which no particular pressure was required to bring about the introduction of the measure. In any case no such crude proceedings were necessary as Bismarck, a few years earlier, had employed in the case of Belgium, in order to compel her to adopt anew penal clause – the so-called “tinker’s clause.” We therefore remained in doubt as to the admonitions, to which the Swiss Bundesrat was subjected, when, contrary to the best traditions of the Confederacy, it handed us our passports. It was said in various quarters that fears as to possible difficulties in the negotiation of anew German-Swiss commercial treaty, which had then become necessary, were not without their influence upon the resolution taken by the Bundesrat.

However this may be, it is worthy of remark that when the Bundesrat had resolved to banish us, that very member of the Bundesrat who was supervisor for the Federal Police, the honest Waadtlander Democrat, Louis Ruchonnet, resigned his office in a rather demonstrative manner. In the same way, that member of the Zürich Government Board, who was supervisor over the police of the Canton Zürich, the highly cultivated Regierungsrat Stössel, a Socialist of the school of Friedrich Albert Lange, resigned his supervisorship immediately after our expulsion, and turned his attention to educational matters instead. Finally, Police-Captain Fischer, the Chief of Police for the City of Zürich, assured us in an unequivocal manner that his sympathies were not with the German detective service, but with us, in our struggle against them. We were thus in the truly peculiar position of being banished from Switzerland against the individual wishes of the chiefs of police, of the Confederacy, the canton, and the city! In particular the democratic feeling of the Swiss people was strongly opposed to our banishment. In the National Council Theodor Curti, among others, made an excellent political speech against it, which produced a great impression, and was afterwards published as a pamphlet. At a great meeting of protest held in Zürich many well-known spokesmen of Swiss Social Democracy took the field against the Bundesrat, among them the Professor of Natural History, Arnold Dodel-Port, who was in a condition of painful excitement. We had, too, no lack of evidence of personal sympathy. Even the Bundesrat did its best to make the measure as endurable to us as possible. It granted us of its own free will a delay of four weeks in which to settle our affairs, and even caused its agents to inquire of us whether we were in need of financial help to accomplish our removal, an offer .which we of course declined with thanks. We published in the Socialdemokrat a long manifesto, in which we protested that we had never knowingly caused any inconvenience to Switzerland, and explained that we sought the actual authors of our expulsion, not in Berne, but in Berlin; and that we bade farewell to Switzerland, in which we had so long found an asylum, without any feeling of bitterness.

Certainly, apart from the publication and smuggling into Germany of the Sozialdemokrat, we had been guilty of nothing which, in a country where the Press was free, could in any way be regarded as compromising. The language of the Sozialdemokrat had of course been pretty free at times, but it did not exceed that which the Democrats in exile had themselves had to put up with. I pointed this out when rumours of the threatened banishment had reached me, by publishing, with a few artless introductory remarks, at the bottom of the front page of the Sozialdemokrat, several extracts from the literature of Radicalism dating from before and since 1848; but this, it seemed, was in Berne regarded as an insulting procedure. But what had chiefly incensed people against us was a combative broad-sheet, which, during the elections of 1887, had been employed by us as a counter-weapon against the propagandist literature of the Bismarck Coalition, which was exploiting the fear of the French. It was published under the title of The Red Devil and printed on deep red paper. This journal, whose title had been suggested by the Diable à Quatre, published by the opponents of the Second Empire in France, Edouard Lockroy and his comrades, and which contained some pungent contributions from poetically gifted comrades in the Empire, did not fail to deliver some bitter attacks upon those at the helm of the Empire, and it cannot be disputed that some of them went rather further than was expedient for the good of the party, But one must not forget that the Sozialdemokrat and almost everything else that the party Press published was obliged to express in concentrated form the indignation by which the adherents of a party subjected to the “exceptional legislation” were ever and again overcome. Our banishment raised the question whether the Socialdemokrat should continue to appear in Zürich under the management of Swiss citizens, or should be removed, with us exiles, to London, where we intended to go next. After profound consideration, the latter course was decided upon.

So the day of our departure drew near: the 12th of May 1888. The Zürich working classes did not fail, at the last moment, to give a demonstrative proof of their sympathy for the exiles. The wide Bahnhofplatz was at the appointed hour overflowing with people; and the roads alongside the railway and the bridges and level-crossings were black with people. The exiles were handed great wreaths with red favours and appropriate inscriptions, as well as tasteful bouquets of flowers, and wherever they appeared there was loud cheering, and repeated cries of “Auf Wiedersehen.” As if this was not already enough to sadden us, melancholy sinners as we were, the very heavens did their best to make our departure from Zürich painful. It was a wonderful day of May: the Zürichzee, which I had grown to know so intimately, glittered in the glorious sunshine; the surrounding mountains, with their manifold shades of green, and their changing outlines, rose vividly before us, and behind them glistened the snow-covered peaks of the Alps of Central Switzerland, while the higher hill-pastures were decking themselves in fresh colours – everything in nature and man alike showed us its most friendly side. And now we had to leave it all – who knew for how long? Nature has denied me the faculty of weeping, but as the train drew out of the Zürich station, the tears stood in my eyes. Zürich had been a second home to me, my deputy-home, I might call it. All that it offered me, its intellectual stimulus, its absorbing street-scenes eloquent of the present and the past, its many natural charms, the nearness of the Alps, and the amenities of the lake – all these I had enjoyed, be it said, with a sense of the intensest gratitude – and there I had made many dear friends, and had learned to understand and value the character of the people. People describe the Swiss as being “on the make,” as given over to the cult of money. In this respect I have not found them different from the inhabitants of other capitalist countries; but they are often rather more ingenuous, or, if you like, less adroit. In Karl Marx’s Herr Vogt some one relates of a Swiss peasant that on hearing the news of the unsuccessful outcome of the Baden Palatinate rising he exclaimed: “I had rather the Lord God had lost His best yoke of cows” [2]; and the narrator remarks, benevolently, that the worthy husbandman would not willingly have sacrificed his own cows, but that it was really very nice of him to be willing, at all events, to give the Lord God’s cows for the revolution. Quite in the spirit of this anecdote my Zürich landlord, an honest master mechanic, when I had been prevented by the “higher authorities” from obtaining the whole benefit of my lease, made no abatement for that part of the lease which had still to run. But as I was leaving his house on the day of our departure he shook hands with me at the door, evidently much moved, and burst into sobs. Honi soi qui mal y pense. One must not ask too much of people, if one wishes to like them, says Diderot, and in this respect I have all my life been in agreement with the author of Rameau’s Nephew.

At the railway station of Baden Aurgau the police-captain, Fischer of Zürich, entered our compartment. He had received instructions from the Bundesrat to accompany us as far as the Swiss frontier, and considered it to be more tactful not to join us in Zürich, where every one knew him. Moreover, he was in mufti. We were duly grateful for this consideration, and entered into unconstrained conversation with him. Our journey, since we had to avoid German territory, was made by way of Olten, Delemont, and Delle into [3] France. We thought of spending two or three days in Paris, where we wanted to visit some political friends, and then to London. London was not wholly unknown to me, but I had seen little in it that reminded me of home, and I had, on the other hand, acquired all sorts of unfavourable ideas respecting the country and the people. Consequently a slight dismay overcame me whenever I thought of the coming change from cheerful, familiar Zürich to the vast, unfamiliar, gloomy capital of England. Before all it was inconceivable to me that I should ever be able to feel at home in a place which offered the inhabitants no smooth expanse of running water on and in which to disport themselves. Yet, in spite of all, the inconceivable came to pass.




1. The verses may roughly be translated thus:

By All Means

In Switzerland a Castle stands;
There justice has an awful
Disaster known, that shakes all lands
By means that are not lawful.

There Communism brightly burns;
All make one family only;
They doss together when returns
The night, for none sleeps lonely.

A madhouse this! The challenge shrills;
Now all in blood will welter!
Yet fearing not the dungeon’s chills
They enter helter-skelter!

And lo, the red Republic! Such
The warder of our portals!
In London who’d have thought as much
Of such poor slavish mortals!

2. Cows, bullocks, oxen horses, donkeys, mules, and goats are used promiscuously as draught animals in most parts of Switzerland. – (Trans.)

3. “Into,” see p.83. [in original printed version. For digital version search Chapter 4 for “into France” & “out to Germany” – note by transcriber]


Last updated on 29.1.2003