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 German Social Democracy  (1896)*

By Bertrand Russell

Lecture III

History of German Socialism from the Death of Lassalle
to the Passing of the Exceptional Law

[p.69] Lassalle’s sudden death threw the affairs of his small but enthusiastic following into the greatest confusion, and produced a feeling of extreme consternation among the members of the Universal Association. Some ardent worshippers refused to believe that he was dead; most regarded his death as the result of deep-laid governmental plots. That he, their great inspired leader, should be killed in an ordinary duel about a love-affair, seemed quite inconceivable. Among some, whose interest in the movement was really an interest in Lassalle, a complete Lassalle-religion was developed; all his words were treasured, and the letter of his policy was strictly followed. The larger section of the Association, however, following Bernhard Becker, whom Lassalle had appointed as his successor, gradually, though halfheartedly, admitted the utility of Trade Unions, and passed beyond Lassalle’s actual words. Becker was an incompetent leader, who imitated Lassalle’s faults without possessing his genius. The unmeasured boasting which, in the master, was more or less justified by his real force, became, in the [p.70] disciple, the most ridiculous exaggeration. “I alone among you represent revolution, and have revolutionary power in me,” he said on one occasion; and this arrogance was accompanied by the most insolent disregard of others, and the most irritating use of his dictatorship.

Under Becker’s mismanagement, the Association, small as it had been before, lost ground everywhere. In 1867, however, he was replaced by v. Schweitzer, a man of great ability, and an intimate friend of Lassalle. Schweitzer rapidly improved the affairs of the Association. Thus, by a bold agitation in 1869, he succeeded in obtaining a footing in Berlin, which had been, since Lassalle’s failure, an impregnable stronghold of the Progressives.1 He had under stood and known Lassalle’s policy more thoroughly than any of his contemporaries — too thoroughly, perhaps, for by his support of Bismarck he became universally suspected.

The organ of the Association, which he edited and rigidly controlled, published in 1867 a series of articles entitled “The Bismarck Ministry,” which disgusted all sound Democrats, and caused Marx, Engels, and Liebknecht, who were on the staff, publicly to withdraw their names. Again, in 1867, Schweitzer stood in Elberfeld against Bismarck and a Liberal. Having been defeated himself in the first ballot, he ordered his followers to vote for Bismarck, who was thus enabled to defeat the Liberal candidate.2 Whether true or false, it was; and is, the opinion of all thorough Socialists that he had become in fact, if not in form, a traitor and [p.71] a Government agent. At the general meeting in 1869, Bebel and Liebknecht were invited to be present, and prevailed on the Association to adopt a more democratic organisation, and a more socialistic programme. Hereupon Schweitzer made a coup d'état, restored the old “democratic dictatorship,” as he called it, and refused to print any adverse criticisms in his paper. A large number of dissentients, in consequence, left the Association. “When Herr v. Schweitzer dictates,” they said in a formal protest, “the members have simply to obey, and yet they are still called the ‘sovereign people.’ No greater mockery has ever been offered to any human being.” Even among the remaining members, a growing opposition made itself felt, and finally, after he had been elected to the Reichstag by the help of Conservative votes, Schweitzer was forced to resign the presidency of the Association in July 1871, and was soon afterwards expelled from it as a traitor. From this time on, the fanatical worship of Lassalle, and adherence to his whole policy, rapidly decayed. Marx’s influence, as represented by Bebel and Liebknecht, made itself more and more felt, and in 1875 the Association amalgamated with the “honourable” Social Democrats, as they called themselves, the party of thorough-going Marxian Communism.

To trace the growth of this Marxian party, which to-day exclusively represents German Democratic Socialism, we must for a moment return to London, which was throughout the centre of Marx’s influence. This influence, as we have seen, began with the Communist League, though the German police, in [p.72] a priceless passage of the “Black Book,” succeeded in tracing it back, in a most lucid manner, to Baboeuf and the infernal machine.3 From Baboeuf this document proceeds to Mazzini, who, according to its account, founded a “young Italy.” This, the police explain, gave rise to a “young Germany,” a “young France,” a “young Poland,” etc. All these combined into a “young Europe,” whose purpose was the “Overthrow of the old Europe.” This gave rise to the “League of the Despised,” which already had communistic tendencies; object: Universal Overthrow. The “League of the Despised” produced “The League of the Just;” object: Universal Overthrow. Out of this developed, in the course of time, the “Communist League,” which, we are informed, was “founded in London in the forties out of members of all older conspiracies in Germany, France, Italy, and Poland.” So far the police: for my part, I have no knowledge of these pre-Adamite transgressions, and am content to regard the Communist League as primary and original sin. The Communist League was a small society of propagandists, and Marx’s Manifesto, though it long remained little known, was read by many young members who afterwards became important agitators. In consequence of this work, and of the “Critique of Political Economy,” Marx was invited, in 1864, to present an address to a newly-constituted society, the International Working-Men’s Association. This Association, the subject of so much mystery and [p.73] melodrama, which contained revolutionaries of all countries — English, French, Germans, Italians, and Poles — held its inaugural meeting at St. Martin’s Hall in September 1864, with Professor Beesley in the chair. It was doubtful, at first, whether Marx or Mazzini would lead the Association, but Marx, by a very able address, won the inaugural meeting to his views, and obtained the privilege of drawing up the statutes and programme. Mazzini, who was by no means a Socialist, resigned with all his Italian followers, and thus left Marx supreme. At the first general meeting in Geneva, two years later, Marx’s statutes were accepted. The programme was essentially the same as that of the Communist Manifesto, with a strong emphasis on the need of internationalism, while the organisation allowed any socialistic associations to affiliate, and decreed an Annual Congress. Like almost every Socialist organisation, it soon lost an anarchist contingent, which followed the Russian Bakunin, and became the parent of modern nihilism. Nevertheless, the International remained very powerful, and succeeded in establishing Socialistic movements in almost all countries of Europe, and also in the United States, in which country alone it still formally exists. Marx, emerging, at the periodical Congresses, from his scholarly retirement, retained his power, though with some difficulty, and increased his prestige immensely by the publication of his “Capital” in 1867. Although the German Laws forbade the formal affiliation of German Associations, the principles of the International gradually gained ground, and Marx’s works, in the original or in a popularised [p.74] form, were studied with growing admiration by all the leaders of workmen’s organisations. We must now confine ourselves to Germany, and trace, more in detail, the means by which Marx’s influence and the principles of the International were spread.

Lassalle’s agitation, though it had not obtained many actual followers — at his death, the Association only numbered 4610 members — had succeeded in the primary object of an agitation, in that it had agitated everybody. Already in 1863, very soon after the founding of the Association, a number of Arbeiterbildungs-Vereine, or societies for workmen’s education — which, in spite of their name, were really political — combined, as supporters of Schulze-Delitzsch, into a league of German workmen’s societies, to oppose Lassalle from the side of Liberalism. Their headquarters were at Leipzig, and here Bebel, from the first one of their most important members, and at that time an adherent of the Progressive party, became acquainted with Liebknecht. Through Liebknecht’s influence, combined with the banal and foolish opposition offered by official Liberalism to the new movement, he was gradually converted to Socialism. Already in 1865, Bebel, who is an extremely powerful orator, succeeded in winning the Saxon contingent to Socialistic principles, and in 1868, when he was president of the League, he and Liebknecht persuaded the annual Congress to accept, by a large majority, the most important items in the programme of the International. The minority declared that such programmes were mere phrases, that their demands could not be attained within measurable time, and [p.75] that reliance on the State weakened the spirit of self-help, from which alone a solution of the social question was to be expected. They drew up a formal protest, and left the League. This loss, however, was made good by the dissentient members of the Universal Association, who found here a more congenial atmosphere than under Schweitzer’s dictatorship. Finally, in 1869, at a Congress of all German-speaking Socialists in Eisenach, the League formally dissolved, and after a fruitless attempt at union with the Universal Association, it formed, with the German members of the International, the Social Democratic Workmen’s Party, afterwards known as the Eisenach or “honourable” party, which recognised the principles of the International, and declared itself, so far as the laws allowed, affiliated to that organisation.

The chief agent in this rapid development was Liebknecht, who, though not himself a great orator, succeeded in winning, by his strong conviction and scholarly education, the powerful oratorical support of August Bebel. In a trial for high treason, the result of his opposition to the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine, Liebknecht gave an interesting autobiography, which greatly helps to explain the success of his persistent efforts to spread Socialistic principles in Germany.

“Arising from a family of small officials,” he says, “I was destined by my relations for office life. But already at school I learnt to know the writings of Saint-Simon, which opened a new world to me. For a bread-and-butter study I had in any case no inclination. At the age of sixteen I entered the university, and studied the most various subjects. I dived into this and that, like every student who [p.76] really wishes to learn, and is not confined to the strait-waistcoat of a bread-and-butter study. I soon abandoned finally the thought of entering the service of the State, as it was not compatible with my political and social opinions. But for a while I cherished the plan of becoming a Privatdozent, and of perhaps obtaining a professorship in one of the smaller, more independent universities. I did not long deceive myself, however, with this vain delusion. I became persuaded that, without sacrificing my principles, I had not the slightest prospect of obtaining the teacher’s certificate, and therefore resolved, in 1847, to emigrate to America. I carried out the necessary preparations without delay, and was already on the journey to a seaport, when I made the acquaintance, by accident, of a man who had a position as teacher in Switzerland. He disapproved of my plan, and referring to the changes imminent, to all appearance, in European conditions, advised me with such persuasive words to cross into republican Switzerland, that I turned back at the next post station, and, instead of Hamburg, I went to Zurich.… I visited the German Workman’s Association in Zurich for the sake of instruction, as I had opportunity here, for the first time, to hear the workmen themselves discuss their situation and their aims.… On the 23rd of February 1848 came the news of the beginning of the fight in Paris. My dearest hopes were now fulfilled, for I did not doubt the victory of the people. I could not endure to stay any longer in Switzerland. I took a hasty adieu of my circle of friends, and two hours later I was already on the way to Paris. In spite of my haste, the fight was ended, and the barricades were already in part removed when I reached my goal; yet my hopes had not deceived me — the July Throne had fallen.… The effects of the revolution on Germany are still fresh in our memories. I did not doubt that it was possible to realise the idea of a German republic,… but unfortunately I grew ill in Paris from over-exertion, and could not co-operate in the end of [p.77] the fight.… I returned to Zurich, to my old studies. But only for a few months. In the end of September Struve unfurled the banner of the Republic. At his call, I crossed the Rhine with a dozen like-minded companions, and we succeeded in bringing together, within three days, a fairly strong corps of volunteers. But when I reached Lauffenburg, where all the volunteer corps were to be concentrated, I heard the news that Struve had been defeated and taken prisoner. I made an attempt to reach my corps. The attempt failed; I was taken prisoner, and had to spend three-quarters of a year under arrest during investigation. At the end of this time I was set free without a trial.… I took part as journalist and soldier in the campaign to secure a constitution for the Empire. We fought for a free united Germany, and the Prussian army, commanded by the present Emperor of Germany (Wilhelm I), suppressed the movement, and restored the old division and bondage. I escaped to Switzerland, and sought to win the German Workmen’s Associations of Switzerland, whose membership was at that time very large, for a united organisation and a strictly Socialist programme. A Congress was called to Murten. The Swiss Federal Council pretended to believe that the real purpose of the Congress was an invasion of Baden, and arrested all the delegates, including myself.… I was banished from Switzerland by command of the Federal Council, and delivered to the French authorities, who sent me, with a passport of compulsion, to London. In London I became a member of the Communist League. The only member of the League whom I had previously known was Engels, whom I had met in Geneva. Marx I only learnt to know in London.… From the Communist Manifesto, which is to be regarded as the programme of the Communist League, it is as clear as noonday that this much maligned association was revolutionary, it is true, in that it aimed at a complete transformation of social and political conditions, but that, just because it held revolution to be an organic [p.78] process, it was free from, and even hostile to, every sort of mechanical revolution-mongery, since in the development of society unalterable laws hold good, which must be investigated, but which only a fool could think of trying to change.… In London I lived thirteen years, engaged in political and social studies, and still more in the struggle for existence. In the middle of 1862, I was invited by August Brass, the red republican of '48, to join the staff of his new Berlin paper, the Norddeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung. I had been enabled by the amnesty, in the meantime, to return to Germany.… At first all went well. But after a short time, in the end of September 1862, Bismarck came into power, and I soon noticed that a change was taking place in the attitude of the paper.… The grounds of suspicion multiplied, and I at last obtained the proofs that Brass had bound himself to Bismarck as his literary menial. It is obvious that I had now to sever my connection with this paper, although I thereby renounced my only means of subsistence. At that time, and later, repeated attempts were made to buy me also.… Herr von, now Prince, Bismarck takes not only money, but people, wherever he finds them. It is indifferent to him to what party a man belongs. He even prefers apostates, for an apostate is stripped of his honour, and is therefore a passive tool in the hands of his master. The Prussian ministry was extremely anxious, at that time, to find a set-off against the unruly bourgeoisie. It wished to crush them between aristocracy and proletariat as between two millstones, according to the recipe given thirty years ago by the English Tory chief, Disraeli; for even in this point the policy of Herr von Bismarck was not original. The Norddeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung was repeatedly put at the disposal of myself and my friends for articles of an extreme socialistic, even communistic, tendency. I need not say that I did not allow myself to be misused for the purposes of this sordid game, and rejected with proper scorn the attempts at corruption of [p.79] Herr von Bismarck’s agents.… In the year 1863 Lassalle began his pioneer agitation. At first I held aloof, till the shameful attacks of the bourgeois press on the young socialistic movement made it my duty of honour to forget all my scruples. I became a member of his Universal German Working-Men’s Association. True to the policy already described, the governing aristocracy sought to gain control of the new labour movement. After Lassalle’s sudden death, the Association unfortunately fell into the hands of men who gave assistance to these reactionary endeavours, partly from incapacity, partly from intention. This forced me to abandon my hitherto reserved behaviour, and combat openly this governmental socialism. I showed that a one-sided procedure against the bourgeoisie could only be of service to the aristocracy, that the contemplated universal suffrage, without freedom of the press, of meeting, and of combination, was nothing but an instrument of the reaction, and that ‘State-help’ from a government of lordlings could only be granted to corrupt the workmen and make them useful for the purposes of the reaction.… The persecutions of the police redoubled.… And one fine morning I was given notice that I must leave Berlin and the State of Prussia.…” 4
By this banishment, Liebknecht was forced to settle in Leipzig, which, as we have seen, was Bebel’s home, and the headquarters of the League of German Workmen’s Societies. Thus he was enabled, by the kindly help of the police, to acquire that influence over Bebel and his followers, by which they were led, finally, to agreement with the principles of Marx and the International. The hold which Marx’s principles thus gained on the German labour movement has since then continually increased. No sooner was his “Capital” published than the more [p.80] intelligent and educated members of the party, in innumerable pamphlets and speeches, set to work to popularise his doctrines. The law of concentration of capital appealed to all town workmen, who could see, in their daily life, the rapid progress of large factories and the rapid decay of the handicrafts. The doctrine that this law, by an inherent and fatal necessity, must bring about the advent of the Collectivist State, inspired all the disciples with confidence of ultimate success, and gave to the future, for which they were striving, the air of a proved scientific fact, instead of the wild and visionary Utopia which it had hitherto seemed.

“What cannot be reached artificially,” says one of these Marxian popular pamphlets 5 “by any proposal, by any possible means, that the law of development of capitalistic production brings about of itself, without any intention. People may wish it or not, this development will be completed. This is no plan which some one proposes, no measure to be followed, but a pitiless insight into the nature of things.”

Thus all went well for the development of Marxian principles. By the granting of universal suffrage for the North German League, the Socialists of both parties were able together to elect six members to the North German Reichstag. A great help in agitation was gained, in 1868, by the foundation of Trade Unions. These have been from the start political in spirit — at first, indeed, they were of three opposing factions, corresponding to the Marxians, Lassalleans, and Progressives. The Marxian Unions were the stronger and more numerous, but unlike [p.81] our English Unions, they were founded from above, with a mainly political purpose, and a centralised organisation for the various trades, and were not a spontaneous movement of the working-men themselves. But by the conduct of the Eisenach or Marxian party during the Franco-Prussian War — one of the most honourable facts in their whole history, by the way — the growth of their principles received a severe check, so severe that, to this day, all other parties dwell with horrified pleasure on the wickedness of the Socialist attitude at that time. As followers of the International, which recognised no distinction of country, the Eisenach party could not approve of the war, and could not share the national enthusiasm which took possession of Germany. As Republicans, their sympathies, after Sedan had brought about the French Republic, were rather with France than with their own country. They urged a cheap peace, without annexation of Alsace-Lorraine, and were regarded, in consequence, as traitors to the Fatherland. Bebel, Liebknecht, and Hepner (the editor of the party organ) were arrested on a charge of high treason; Hepner was acquitted, after fifteen months’ imprisonment without trial, but Bebel and Liebknecht received sentences of two years nine months and two years respectively. Consistently with their Communist principles, they had declared their sympathy with the Paris Commune, which was largely directed, though not instigated, by the International. Whatever was told of its horrors, they regarded as bourgeois fabrications. By this declaration, also, they shocked irrevocably the moral sense of the ordinary German Philistine. [p.82] “It was,” Bismarck said in introducing the Socialist law, “from the moment when, in the assembled Reichstag, either Bebel or Liebknecht, in pathetic appeal, held up the French Commune as a model of political institutions, and openly confessed before the nation the gospel of the Paris murderers and incendiaries, that I first experienced a full conviction of the danger which threatened us. That appeal to the Commune was a ray of light upon the matter, and from that moment I regarded the Social Democratic factions as an enemy against which the State and society must arm themselves.” Bismarck’s feelings were shared by all patriotic Germans, and the Social Democrats everywhere lost ground. Liebknecht lost his seat, and Bebel alone represented the Eisenach party in the Reichstag.

Schweitzer’s followers, who were national and patriotic, attacked the Eisenach party in the streets of Leipzig, and the police, for once, had to afford protection to the Social Democrats. The universal horror with which they were regarded is amusingly illustrated by an anecdote which Liebknecht tells of his experience in the Reichstag. 6 His alphabetical neighbour in the cloak-room, seeing that Liebknecht had, by accident, a cane with a little lead knob, immediately bought an out-and-out shillelagh, which kept watch over his cane to the end of the session. To this day in Germany, educated and uneducated, professors and soldiers, make it the greatest crime of Social Democracy that it refused to share in the brutal and blundering sin by which Alsace-Lorraine was annexed.

[p.83] Another crime of the Socialists was their vain protest against Prussian supremacy in the new German Empire. Though all democrats and revolutionaries had wished ardently for German unity, no enlightened democrat could welcome such a unity with Prussia at its head — Prussia, which, as Lassalle, though himself a Prussian, had said, stood far behind almost every other German state. 7 Although, largely in order to gain the help of the Democracy in establishing German unity, universal suffrage was granted to all Germany, the ascendency of Prussia almost outweighed this gain. To understand the small value of the suffrage and the great evil of Prussian rule, we must, however, first make a short survey of the German Constitution as determined at Versailles after the war.

There are two ways of describing a Constitution: the pedantic way, which gives an account of the written or theoretical powers of various bodies, and of the manner in which, in theory, ministers and other public officers are appointed; and the way which Bagehot has so admirably illustrated in his book on the English Constitution, in which the real powers of the State, in their relations and oppositions, are described and defined. In the latter way, a description of the German Constitution might be short: there are three estates, it would run, Emperor, Police, and People; but the Emperor is the puppet of the police, and the people’s functions are confined to rejecting new laws of a reactionary tendency. As, however, the police are the only interpreters of existing laws, as they constantly interpret these [p.84] illegally, and silence objections by imprisoning the objectors for disrespect of authority, the power of rejecting new laws is almost nugatory, and the old laws can be made to mean anything. This description, believe me, is more accurate than any you would find in the bulkiest German tome, Ueber Verfassungswesen.

But the above account, though short and simple, is not likely to carry conviction to an English mind; I will therefore adopt the other, the pedantic method, and describe the written Constitution.

Germany is a federal monarchy; the King of Prussia is the German Emperor; and Prussia, by its army, its king and its population, has an immense preponderance in the policy of the Empire. The Federal Government consists of the following elements: the Emperor and his Minister, the Reichskanzler, or Chancellor, form the first Estate; the Chancellor is the only Federal Minister, and is therefore the most important of the Emperor’s subjects. Under Bismarck, and to a less extent under Caprivi, the Chancellor really governed; the present Chancellor, Fürst zu Hohenlohe, however, is an old man of little force, so that the Emperor is to a great extent his own Chancellor. The second Estate is the Bundesrath, which consists of men appointed directly by the kings or princes of the various federated states. In this body, Prussia’s influence wholly outweighs that of the other states, and this body is the source from which new bills usually emanate. Prussia itself has seventeen members out of fifty-eight in this body, but by pressure it is generally able to obtain a majority. The Prussian Ministers are [p.85] members of it, and form a connecting link between it and the third Estate, the Reichstag, which is elected by manhood suffrage of all over the age of twenty-five. This body has a veto on all new laws, but new laws are in general proposed, not by it, but by the Bundesrath. The Reichstag can propose a new law, but in that case, it depends on the consent of the Chancellor whether its proposal ever comes up for discussion or not. The Reichstag also has control of Imperial taxation, but the great bulk of the taxes are in the hands of the State Governments, which are nowhere democratic. Imperial taxes consist, in the main, of customs and post-office; the latter, however, is locally administered in Bavaria and Würtemberg. The whole of the Estimates has to be voted by the Reichstag, but a large part of the sum voted is contributed by the separate states. Thus, the vast mass of the taxation depends on undemocratic bodies, and the taxes fall with very undue weight on the necessaries of the poor. The chief weapon of the Reichstag lies in refusing supplies for the Army and Navy Estimate; this Estimate now absorbs about 50 per cent of the revenue, and has absorbed, on an average since 1872, about 70 per cent. Owing, however, to the real and pressing danger of war, and to the ingrained patriotism of the normal German, refusal of supplies appears as such an extreme measure that it can scarcely be resorted to; and whenever the Reichstag has protested against the immense army expenditure, its dissolution has led to an outburst of patriotic enthusiasm, and the election of a more conservative assembly.

[p.86] It thus appears that great power belongs to the local governments of the Federal states. These are in no sense democratic, but are constituted, usually, in the following manner: The king or prince appoints his Ministers, and also appoints an Upper House. The Lower House is elective, but the vote is always restricted by a property qualification, usually a high one. In Saxony, the only state which has hitherto been fairly democratic, a proposal is now being discussed, and is, apparently, very likely to become law, 8 by which the Prussian system of voting by three classes (Dreiklassenwahlsystem) is to be introduced. By this system, which prevails in all Prussian elections, the electors of every district are divided into three classes, according to their fortune: the first class contains a few of the richest men, the second a rather larger number of fairly well-to-do people, the third the mass of the electors — all of whom, however, have to be tax-payers, and are only entitled to vote on producing the tax-collector’s receipt. The voting, moreover, is public, and is recorded by officials whose sympathies, naturally, are not on the side of the people. All three classes elect an equal number of men; in town councils, these men themselves are members, but for the Prussian Diet, where there is a system of double election, as for the American Presidency, these men are only electors. The result of this system of double election is, that the third class, instead of getting one-third of the members, gets none at all: for it elects only one-third of the electors, who are of course outvoted by the other two-thirds. [p.87] Not a single Social Democrat sits in the Prussian Diet.

When I add that the Ministers, in fact as in theory, are directly appointed by the Crown, that they are always Conservative, whether they have a majority to back them or not, and that there is thus no connecting link between the popular assembly and the administration, it will be seen that the powers of the people are reduced to a minimum, and that the brief description of the real forces in the State, with which I began, was in no way exaggerated. The danger of war, the army, and the police, make this constitution absolutely rigid and unalterable; there seems no hope of amelioration, as some of the Socialists themselves assert, except from a second Jena — unless, indeed, by a miracle, there should arise an Emperor with some common-sense and common humanity.

It must be remembered also, that trial by jury, the right of coalition, freedom of speech and of the press, exist only in a very limited degree. People accused of political crimes are hardly ever tried by juries; when they are so tried, the State can appeal to a court where there is no jury, as in Lassalle’s first trial, in May 1849. Freedom of the press exists, it is true, in so far that anything may be published without previous permission; but the police can always, when it seems good to them, find some pretext for suppressing a newspaper and imprisoning its editors, so that Socialist papers keep a highly-paid responsible Sitz-Redakteur, or gaol-editor, who has no real connection with the editorial work, but acknowledges himself to be responsible. [p.88] In one respect alone have newspapers perfect freedom, and that is in reporting, without comment, the proceedings of the Reichstag. I had always been told that, in the Reichstag, the members had perfect freedom of speech, and that there did always exist, in this way, one unrestricted outlet for Socialist opinions. To some extent this is true, and especially during the Exceptional Law, Socialist members would often speak for hours, apparently to empty benches, but really, through the press, to their followers and the whole country. But Bebel, on the only occasion when I heard a Social Democrat speak in the Reichstag, was called to order by the President, for mentioning that “in the highest quarters” things had been said against Social Democracy. Some facts about the Emperor, it would appear, are so discreditable, that merely to mention them is an insult to Majesty.

The absence of Democracy appears forcibly to any one on first seeing the Reichstag. The members, like schoolboys, sit below in an amphitheatre, and discuss academic themes; above, on a dais, sit their schoolmasters, the Chancellor, the Prussian Ministers, and some Prussian officers. Other officers, in full uniform, stand about among the Ministers, and go and come at will. The Tribune has an officer in uniform on each side. From time to time the Ministers, who are members of the Bundesrath, not of the Reichstag, deign to interrupt the academic debate, by communicating the decision at which the Government has arrived on the point in question. The Conservative Benches applaud, and the debate goes on as before. But Party Government, [p.89] Government by Discussion, control of Parliament over the Ministry — of all this there is not the faintest trace. Officers and Ministry make known their will, and the Reichstag may complain, but can change nothing.

But we must now return to the history of Social Democracy, which we left at the time when the present Constitution was established. People gradually forgot the glories of the war, and the wicked altruism of Social Democracy. The financial crisis of 1873 caused extreme misery in the working classes, and greatly facilitated the spread of socialistic views. The writings of Marx and Lassalle continued to exert an immense influence, and the Socialists carried on more and more vigorously their increasing agitation, by meetings, pamphlets, and newspapers.

After 1875 professional agitators were employed, receiving 135 marks (£6, 15s.) a month from the party funds. Their duties consisted in settling in some promising neighbourhood, whence they carried on every kind of agitation. By the time of the Congress of 1876 the party had eight of these full-fledged missionaries, as well as fourteen assistants at lower pay. 9 The union between Lassalleans and Eisenachers at Gotha, in 1875, greatly increased their combined strength. This union was effected by a compromise, in which the positive demands and principles of both parties were acknowledged: thorough-going Collectivism was set forth as the end, and Lassalle’s productive associations with State-credit were admitted, under democratic guarantees, as a desirable means. Although this programme showed, on the whole, a victory of the Marxians, Marx protested against [p.90] it in a private letter, as showing only a skin-deep comprehension of his principles. It was felt to be a compromise, and soon ceased to express the opinions of any large section of the party. Owing to the Socialist Law, however, it could not be amended until 1891, in which year it was altered to one which might have satisfied even Marx’s imperious demand for orthodoxy.

Meantime, however, Universal Suffrage, which had increased the Socialist vote, had also greatly increased the vote of the Conservatives. The country population of Prussia blindly followed their feudal lords, and many Liberals were terrified into reaction by the advance of Socialism. Thus the Progressive party, which had formerly occupied a mediating position, gradually dwindled, and the two extremes became more and more fiercely antagonistic. Marx’s principle of Klassenkampf, or class-war, rendered acceptable at first by the cowardly half-heartedness of the Liberals, brought about more and more its own justification, and diminished more and more the parties which might have made a compromise possible.

The ordinary civil law was enforced with increased stringency, and in the spring of 1878 began the era of chronic Majestätsbeleidigung (insult to Majesty), which has continued ever since with varying force. Thus a Socialist history of this period mentions that one man was sentenced at this time to two years and six months’ imprisonment because he had hummed to himself in a drunken fit the words, “William is dead; he lives no longer.” 10 The bourgeois press urged all employers to refuse work to [p.91] Social Democrats. This measure was also recommended by the Prussian Minister of Commerce in a circular letter, and many firms declared publicly that they would henceforth employ no Social Democrats. The reactionary elements, however, were not yet sufficiently strong to make special legislation against the Socialists possible. The whole party and all its committees had been declared, in March 1876, to be dissolved for offences against the Coalition Law, but it was found that the individual members could not be “dissolved” under the ordinary law, and exceptional legislation was therefore demanded. To carry this the Government needed a fortunate turn of events, which was brought about by two attempts, in the spring of 1878, on the life of the Emperor. Though there was not a jot of evidence for Socialist complicity; though, in fact, the two would-be assassins seem to have been mere muddleheaded lunatics, the Government and the Conservatives spread a report that these men were Social Democrats, and a storm of popular indignation broke out. A repressive measure against Socialism was laid before the Reichstag after the first attempt, but was rejected by a considerable majority. Five days after the second attempt the Chamber was dissolved; a new one, with fewer Socialists, and many more Conservatives, was elected; and in October 1878, the “Exceptional Law against the universally dangerous endeavours of Social Democracy” was hurriedly passed, and instantly came into force. The provisions of this law, its motives and administration, and the history of Socialism under its rule, will occupy us in the next lecture.

*  Bertrand Russell, Lecture 3, German Social Democracy (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1896)  All pagination is to the original 1896 edition, downloadable as a pdf from this website

1 Mehring, Die Deutsche Sozialdemokratie, 3rd ed., p. 123

2 Ibid., p. 84

3 Hochverraths-Prozess wider Liebknecht, Bebel und Hepner, Berlin, 1895, p. 64. This book is referred to, in what follows, as Hochverraths-Prozess

4 Hochverraths-Prozess, pp. 67 ff.

5 W. Bracke, Jr., Der Lassalle’sche Vorschlag, Brunswick, 1873

6 Hochverraths-Prozess. p. 14

7 Bernstein, vol. i. p. 117

8 This proposal has now been carried (August 1896)

9 Nach Zehn Jahren, vol. i. p. 6

10 Nach Zehn Jahren, vol. i. p. 43