August Bebel

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August Bebel
August Bebel c1900.jpg
Bebel c. 1900
Chairman of the
Social Democratic Party of Germany
In office
21 November 1892 13 August 1913
Preceded by Paul Singer
Alwin Gerisch  [ de ]
Succeeded by Hugo Haase
Friedrich Ebert
Personal details
Ferdinand August Bebel

22 February 1840
Deutz (Cologne), Rhine Province, Kingdom of Prussia
Died13 August 1913(1913-08-13) (aged 73)
Passug, Churwalden,
Political party Social Democratic Workers' Party of Germany
Social Democratic Party of Germany
Occupation Turner

Ferdinand August Bebel (22 February 1840 – 13 August 1913) was a German socialist politician, writer, and orator. He is best remembered as one of the founders of the Social Democratic Workers' Party of Germany (SDAP) in 1869, which in 1875 merged with the General German Workers' Association into the Socialist Workers' Party of Germany (SAPD). During the repression under the terms of the Anti-Socialist Laws, Bebel became the leading figure of the social democratic movement in Germany and from 1892 until his death served as chairman of the Social Democratic Party of Germany.

The Social Democratic Workers' Party of Germany was a Marxist socialist political party in the North German Confederation during the period of unification. Founded in Eisenach in 1869, the SDAP endured through the early years of the German Empire. Often termed the Eisenachers, the SDAP was one of the first political organizations established among the nascent German labor unions of the 19th century. It officially existed under the name SDAP for only six years (1869–1875), but through name changes and political partnerships its lineage can be traced to the present-day Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD).

The General German Workers' Association was a German political party founded on 23 May 1863 in Leipzig, Kingdom of Saxony by Ferdinand Lassalle.

History of the Social Democratic Party of Germany aspect of history

The foundation of the Social Democratic Party of Germany can be traced back to the 1860s, and for much of the 20th and 21st centuries it has represented the centre-left in German politics. The SPD has been the ruling party at several points, first under Friedrich Ebert in 1918. The party was outlawed in Nazi Germany but returned to government in 1969 with Willy Brandt. Meanwhile, the East German branch of the SPD was merged with the ruling KPD. In the modern Federal Republic of Germany, the SPD are the second largest party after the CDU and are currently in government as a junior coalition partner to Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU. The SPD last held the chancellorship under Gerhard Schröder from 1998 to 2005.



Early years

Ferdinand August Bebel, known to all by his middle name, was born on 22 February 1840, in Deutz, Germany, now a part of Cologne. He was the son of a Prussian noncommissioned officer in the Prussian infantry, initially from Ostrowo in the Province of Posen, and was born in military barracks. [1]

Deutz, Cologne city quarter No. 105 of Cologne, Germany

Cologne-Deutz, often just Deutz is an inner city part of Cologne, Germany and a formerly independent town.

Cologne city in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany

Cologne is the largest city of Germany's most populous federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia and the fourth most populous city in Germany after Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich with slightly over a million inhabitants within its urban area. The largest city on the Rhine, Cologne is also the most populous city both of the Rhine-Ruhr Metropolitan Region, which is Germany's largest and one of Europe's major metropolitan areas, and of the Rhineland. Centred on the left bank of the Rhine, Cologne is about 45 kilometres (28 mi) southeast of North Rhine-Westphalia's capital of Düsseldorf and 25 kilometres (16 mi) northwest of Bonn. It is the largest city in the Central Franconian and Ripuarian dialect areas.

Prussia state in Central Europe between 1525–1947

Prussia was a historically prominent German state that originated in 1525 with a duchy centred on the region of Prussia on the southeast coast of the Baltic Sea. It was de facto dissolved by an emergency decree transferring powers of the Prussian government to German Chancellor Franz von Papen in 1932 and de jure by an Allied decree in 1947. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organised and effective army. Prussia, with its capital in Königsberg and from 1701 in Berlin, decisively shaped the history of Germany.

As a young man, Bebel apprenticed as a carpenter and joiner in Leipzig. [2] Like most German workmen at that time, he traveled extensively in search of work and he thereby obtained a first-hand knowledge of the difficulties facing the working people of the day.

Leipzig Place in Saxony, Germany

Leipzig is the most populous city in the federal state of Saxony, Germany. With a population of 581,980 inhabitants as of 2017, it is Germany's tenth most populous city. Leipzig is located about 160 kilometres (99 mi) southwest of Berlin at the confluence of the White Elster, Pleiße and Parthe rivers at the southern end of the North German Plain.

At Salzburg, where he lived for some time, he joined a Roman Catholic workmen's club. When in Tyrol in 1859 he volunteered for service in the war against Italy, but was rejected; and in his own country he was rejected likewise as physically unfit for the army. [1]

Salzburg City in Austria

Salzburg is the capital city of the State of Salzburg and the fourth-largest city in Austria.

County of Tyrol Former county of Austria

The (Princely) County of Tyrol was an estate of the Holy Roman Empire established about 1140. Originally a jurisdiction under the sovereignty of the Counts of Tyrol, it was inherited by the Counts of Gorizia in 1253 and finally fell to the Austrian House of Habsburg in 1363. In 1804 the Princely County of Tyrol, unified with the secularised Prince-Bishoprics of Trent and Brixen, became a crown land of the Austrian Empire in 1804 and from 1867 a Cisleithanian crown land of Austria-Hungary.

In 1860 he settled in Leipzig as a master turner, making horn buttons. [1] He joined various labor organizations. [3] Although initially an opponent of socialism, Bebel gradually was won over to socialist ideas through pamphlets of Ferdinand Lassalle, which popularized the ideas of Karl Marx. [4] In 1865 he came under the influence of Wilhelm Liebknecht and was thereafter committed fully to the socialist cause. [2]

Ferdinand Lassalle 19th-century German jurist and socialist

Ferdinand Lassalle was a Prussian-German jurist, philosopher, socialist and political activist best remembered as the initiator of national-style state socialism in Germany as well as for coining the terms night-watchman state and iron law of wages.

Karl Marx Revolutionary socialist

Karl Marx was a German philosopher, economist, historian, sociologist, political theorist, journalist and socialist revolutionary.

Wilhelm Liebknecht German socialist politician

Wilhelm Martin Philipp Christian Ludwig Liebknecht was a German socialist and one of the principal founders of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). His political career was a pioneering project combining Marxist revolutionary theory with practical legal political activity. Under his leadership, the SPD grew from a tiny sect to become Germany's largest political party. He was the father of Karl Liebknecht and Theodor Liebknecht.

Political career

August Bebel c. 1910 August Bebel c1910.jpg
August Bebel c. 1910

Following the death of Lassalle, Bebel was among the group of Socialists that refused to follow new party leader Johann Baptist von Schweitzer at the Eisenach Conference of 1867, an action which gave rise to the name "Eisenachers" for this Marxist faction. [2] Together with Liebknecht, he founded the Sächsische Volkspartei ("Saxon People's Party"). Bebel was also President of the Union of German Workers' Associations from 1867 and a member of the First International. [5]

Bebel was elected to the North German Reichstag as a member from Saxony in that same year. [2]

In 1869 he helped found the Social Democratic Workers' Party of Germany (SDAP), which later merged with another organization in 1875 to form the Socialist Workers' Party of Germany (SAPD), which in turn became the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) in 1890.

Bebel's great organizing talent and oratorical power quickly made him one of the leaders of the socialists and their chief spokesman in parliament. He remained a member of the North German Parliament, and later of its counterpart for the German Empire, the Reichstag, until his death, except for the interval of 1881–83. [6] He represented successively the districts of Glauchau-Meerane, Dresden, Strassburg, and Hamburg. [7] Later in his life, he acted as chairman of the SPD. Representing as he did Marxian principles, he was bitterly opposed by certain factions of his party. [3]

In 1870 he spoke in parliament against the continuance of the war with France. [1] Bebel and Liebknecht were the only members who did not vote the extraordinary subsidy required for the war with France. [2] Bebel was one of only two socialists elected to the Reichstag in 1871, and he used his position to protest against the annexation of Alsace and Lorraine and to express his full sympathy with the Paris Commune. German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck afterwards said that this speech of Bebel's was a "ray of light" showing him that socialism was an enemy to be fought against and crushed. [6] Falsely accused of being in league with the French and part of a conspiracy to free French prisoners of war held in Germany and to lead them in an attack from the rear, Bebel and Liebknecht were arrested for high treason, but no prosecution was possible for lack of evidence. [2]

Not wanting to release such important opponents of the war effort, old charges of preaching dangerous doctrines and plotting against the state were levied against Bebel and Liebknecht in 1872. [2] The pair were convicted and sentenced to two years in Festungshaft  [ de ] (imprisonment in a fortress), which was spent at the famous Königstein Fortress. For insulting the German emperor, Bebel was additionally sentenced to nine months' ordinary imprisonment. [6] This incarceration served to increase Bebel's prestige among his party associates and the sympathetic public at large. [7]

In 1874 Bebel took a partner and founded a small button factory, for which he acted as salesman, but in 1889 he gave up his business to devote himself wholly to politics. [1] In 1868 he became connected with the staff of the Volksstaat ("The People's State") at Leipzig, and in 1891 with that of the Vorwärts ("Forward") at Berlin. [7]

After his release from prison, he helped to organize, at the congress of Gotha, the united party of Social Democrats, which had been formed during his imprisonment. After the passing of the Socialist Law he continued to show great activity in the debates of the Reichstag, and was also elected a member of the Saxon parliament; when the state of siege was proclaimed in Leipzig he was expelled from the city, and in 1886 condemned to nine months' imprisonment for taking part in a secret society. [6]

In party meetings of 1890 and 1891, Bebel's policies were severely attacked, first by the extremists, the "young" Socialists from Berlin, who wished to abandon parliamentary action; against these Bebel won a complete victory. On the other side he was involved in a quarrel with Volmar and his school, who desired to put aside from immediate consideration the complete attainment of the socialist ideal, and proposed that the party should aim at bringing about, not a complete overthrow of society, but a gradual amelioration. This conflict of tendencies continued, and Bebel came to be regarded as the chief exponent of the traditional views of the orthodox Marxist party. Though a strong opponent of militarism, he publicly stated that foreign nations attacking Germany must not expect the help or the neutrality of the Social Democrats. [6] Already in 1911 amid the rising tensions between the European powers, Bebel publicly predicted an upcoming great war with millions of soldiers confronting each other [8] followed by a great collapse, "mass bankruptcy, mass misery, mass unemployment and great famine." [9]

In 1899, at the Hanover Congress of the SPD, Bebel delivered a speech condemning Eduard Bernstein's revisionism. His resolution, Attacks on the Fundamental Views and Tactics of the Party, garnered the support of the vast majority of the Congress, including Bernstein's supporters. [10]

Class, race, pacifism, and sex

Bebel particularly distinguished himself by his denunciation of the maltreatment of soldiers by officers and still more frequently by non-commissioned officers. His efforts in this matter had received great encouragement when King Albert of Saxony issued an edict dealing with the maltreatment of soldiers in the Saxon contingent, thus cutting the ground from under the feet of the Imperial Government, which had persistently attempted to deny or to explain away the cases put forward by Bebel. [11]

Speaking before the Reichstag, Bebel criticized the war to crush the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1900, saying:

No, this is no crusade, no holy war; it is a very ordinary war of conquest...A campaign of revenge as barbaric as has never been seen in the last centuries, and not often at all in history...not even with the Huns, not even with the Vandals...That is no match for what the German and other troops of foreign powers, together with the Japanese troops, have done in China… [12]

Bebel is also famed for his outrage at the news of German mistreatment of indigenous people in its South-West African colony, the Herero nation in particular. In 1904 following a revolt by the Herero people who were being pushed off their land to make way for German settlers, the government launched the Herero and Namaqua Genocide to crush the revolt by waging a "war of extermination" against the Herero. He and the German Social Democratic Party thus became the only party in the Reichstag to oppose increased colonial expenditures, [13] and in a speech in March 1904 Bebel classified the policy in German West Africa as ‘not only barbaric, but bestial.’ This caused some sections of the contemporary German press to scathingly classify Bebel as 'Der hereroische Bebel' (Coburger Zeitung, 17 January 1904). [13] Bebel was not deterred; he later followed this up with strongly worded warnings against the rising tide of theories of racial hierarchy and racial purity, causing the general election to the German Reichstag in 1907 to go over in history as the ‘Hottentot Election.’ [14]

Bebel's book, Women and Socialism was translated into English by Daniel DeLeon of the Socialist Labor Party of America as Women under Socialism. [15] It figured prominently in the Connolly-DeLeon controversy after James Connolly, then a member of the SLP, denounced it as a "quasi-prurient" book that would repel potential recruits to the socialist movement. [16] The book contained an attack on the institution of marriage which identified Bebel with the most extreme forms of socialism. [6] In the preface to DeLeon's translation, 'Woman Under Socialism', DeLeon distanced himself from Bebel on this point, holding that monogamy was the most desirable form of social organisation.

Bebel's tombstone at Sihlfeld cemetery, Zurich Zurich Friedhof Sihlfeld Bebel 2.JPG
Bebel's tombstone at Sihlfeld cemetery, Zurich

Death and legacy

August Bebel died on 13 August 1913 of a heart attack during a visit to a sanatorium in Passugg, Switzerland. He was 73 years old at the time of his death. His body was buried in Zürich.

At the time of his death Bebel was eulogized by Russian Marxist leader Vladimir Lenin as a "model workers' leader," who had proven himself able to "break his own road" from being an ordinary worker into becoming a political leader in the struggle for a "better social system." [17]

The well-known saying "Anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools" ("Der Antisemitismus ist der Sozialismus der dummen Kerle") is frequently attributed to Bebel, but probably originated with the Austrian democrat Ferdinand Kronawetter; it was in general use among German Social Democrats by the 1890s. [18]

Along with Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Ferdinand Lassalle, Bebel was among the socialist icons included in bas relief portraits on the facade of The Forward building, erected in 1912 as the headquarters of the New York Yiddish-language socialist newspaper.

English language works

See also

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Wikisource-logo.svg Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Bebel, Ferdinand August"  . Encyclopedia Americana .
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "August Bebel, German Socialist Leader, Dies in Switzerland," The Weekly People [New York], vol. 23, no. 21 (23 August 1913), pp. 1–2.
  3. 1 2 Wikisource-logo.svg  Reynolds, Francis J., ed. (1921). "Bebel, Ferdinand August"  . Collier's New Encyclopedia . New York: P.F. Collier & Son Company.
  4. Vladimir Lenin, "August Bebel," Severnaia Pravada, 6 August 1913. Reprinted in Vladimir Lenin, Collected Works: Volume 19. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1963; p. 297.
  5. Andrei Pozdnyakov, "August Bebel," Karl Marx, Frederick Engels Collected Works: Volume 44. New York: International Publishers, 1989; p. 684.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Wikisource-logo.svg Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Bebel, Ferdinand August"  . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  7. 1 2 3 Wikisource-logo.svg  Gilman, D. C.; Peck, H. T.; Colby, F. M., eds. (1905). "Bebel, Ferdinand August"  . New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead.
  8. Krumeich, Gerd (2013). "Das Nahen des Weltkriegs" [The Dawning of the World War]. Damals (in German). Vol. Special volume. pp. 7–22.
  9. Evans, Stephen (8 January 2014) Berlin 1914: A city of ambition and self-doubt, BBC News, Berlin
  10. Vladimir Lenin (1902). "What Is To Be Done? — I. Dogmatism And "Freedom of Criticism"". Marxists Internet Archive.
  11. Wikisource-logo.svg Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1922). "Bebel, Ferdinand August"  . Encyclopædia Britannica (12th ed.). London & New York.
  12. Mombaurer, Annika "Wilhelm II, Waldersee, and the Boxer Rebellion" pages 91–118 from The Kaiser edited by Annika Mombaurer, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003 page 97.
  13. 1 2 Deas, Andrew (April 2009). Germany's Introspective Wars. Colonial and Domestic Conflict in the German Press. Discourse on Race. 1904–1907 (MA thesis). Brandeis University. p. 45. Retrieved 2 May 2014.
  14. Smith, Helmut Walser; ‘The Talk of Genocide’, the Rhetoric of Miscegenation: Notes on Debates in the German Reichstag Concerning Southwest Africa, 1904–1914, in The Imperialist Imagination: German Colonialism and its Legacy, (Sara Friedrichsmeyer etc. eds. 1998), p 107–23, 116, 111–12 & 118.
  15. August Bebel: Women and Socialism, Translation by Meta L. Stern (Hebe), Socialist Literature Co., New York 1910.
  16. James Connolly & Daniel DeLeon: The Connolly-DeLeon controversy. Cork Workers' Club, Cork 1976.
  17. Vladimir Lenin, "August Bebel," Collected Works: Vol. 19, pp. 300–301.
  18. Richard J. Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich (Penguin Group, 2005: ISBN   0-14-303469-3), p. 496.