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 German Social Democracy  (1896)*

By Bertrand Russell

Lecture IV

The Exceptional Law

[p.92] We saw, in the last lecture, how the growth of Socialism and the attempts at assassination spread terror through the ranks of the bourgeoisie, and how, by a skilful choice of the moment for dissolution, Bismarck was enabled to obtain a thoroughly reactionary Reichstag. Thus the Exceptional Law was passed, by a majority of 221 to 149, in a Parliament newly elected largely on this issue. It was, therefore, a measure which the Democracy approved of and expressly sanctioned. Apart from the momentary indignation at the attempts on the Emperor’s life, the permanent causes of popular enmity to Social Democracy will be worth some discussion, as they still exist, in the main, and are likely long to offer a stubborn resistance to its spread.

The motives for the Law on the part of rulers and capitalists are too obvious to need special comment. When a party proclaims class-warfare as its fundamental principle, it must expect the principle to be taken up by the classes against which its war is directed. But the popular enmity which was necessary to the passing of the Law, though in large measure due to the wilful misrepresentation of bourgeois press and bourgeois politicians, was also, [p.93] and principally, a religious antagonism to the new philosophy of life which Marxianism had introduced. The main aspects of Social Democracy to which this enmity attached itself seem to me to be four: its atheism, its views on marriage and the family, its internationalism, and its advocacy of revolution. In most of these respects, it has suffered greatly from misunderstandings. I shall, therefore, briefly examine its doctrines on these four points.

1. Atheism. — At the annual Congress of 1872, a resolution was passed desiring all members of the party to withdraw from religious organisations, and from this time on, the attitude of the party has been avowedly hostile to all existing religions. It is sufficiently evident that the materialistic theory of history leaves no room for religion, since it regards all dogmas as the product of economic conditions. Indeed, Marx’s system, as I explained in the first lecture, is itself a complete religion, and cannot, therefore, be tolerant of any other. Just as much as early Christianity, Social Democracy is logically forced to break with all existing faiths, and if it did otherwise, it would lose much of that imposing emotional effect which it derives from its systematic completeness. At the same time, for the purposes of immediate practical politics, this opposition to Christianity must be regarded as a tactical mistake. Lassalle, though himself a sceptic, had not disdained the assistance of the Catholic Church, and had boasted, before the Catholic Rhinelanders, of the support of the Archbishop of Mainz. His successors, however, despised this support — which, it must be confessed, was bought by the sacrifice of perfect [p.94] honesty — they lost, in consequence, the whole of the Rhineland, the former hotbed of the movement, where they are only now beginning, bit by bit, to regain a few seats in the least ultramontane districts. The charge of atheism, in fact, is brought against Social Democracy with the same truth with which it is brought against every new religion — the old dogmas are rejected, and the new ones appear, to those educated in traditional beliefs, to be mere denial and unbelief.

The religion of Social Democracy, however, does lend more colour to the charge of unbelief than most new faiths. For it denies, wholly and unreservedly, any “other world,” any spiritual purpose in the universe: it is optimistic, not because it believes that Reason governs the world, but because it is persuaded that the blind forces which control the development of society, whose laws it professes to have discovered, happen to lead, inevitably and unintentionally, to the establishment of a better world — not in some distant heaven, but here on earth, among men and women like ourselves. One of its poets has perfectly expressed this view —

“Wie schön ist doch die Erde, o wie schön!
Noch blickt man selinsuchtsvoll nach Himmelhöhn;
Doch hier auf Erden ist das Paradies
Vom Augenblick, da uns der Fluch verliess —
Wir wollen bannen diesen Fluch, auf dass
Zur heil’gen Liebe werde unser Hass.” 1
2. Views on Marriage and the Family. — It is universally believed, or at least stated, by opponents [p.95] of Social Democracy, that it advocates the coarsest forms of free love, that its members are wholly destitute of sexual morality, and that its reign would be the reign of ungoverned license. As regards the private feelings and characters of its champions, this is so far from being the case, that they are themselves exceptionally moral, and show a distinct aversion to the discussion of all such questions. But as regards their theoretic doctrines, the ordinary view is true to this extent, that they believe the form of the family, like every other social institution, to be dependent on economic causes, and regard it as a changing form, consequently, which cannot subsist unaltered in the Collectivist State. The best and most condensed expression of their views on this point, as on almost every other, is to be found in the Communist Manifesto.

Abolition of the family! Even the most Radical grow hot over this shameful intention of the Communists.

On what does the present bourgeois family rest? On capital, on private gain. It exists in its complete development only for the bourgeoisie; but it finds its complement in the proletariats’ forced want of family life, and in public prostitution.

The family of the bourgeois naturally disappears with the disappearance of this, its complement, and both disappear with the vanishing of capital.

Do you cast it up against us that we wish to abolish the exploitation of children by their parents? We admit this crime.

But, you say, we destroy the most intimate relations, by substituting, for education by parents, education by society.

And is not your education also determined by society? By the social relations within which you educate, by the [p.96] more or less direct action of society through the school, etc? The Communists have not invented the influence of society on education; they only alter its character, they rescue education from the influence of the ruling class.

The bourgeois ways of speaking about the family and education, about the sacred relation of parents and children, grow the more sickening, the more, in consequence of the progress of industry, all family bonds are torn asunder for the proletariat, and children are transformed into articles of commerce and instruments of labour.

But you Communists wish to introduce community of women,” the whole bourgeoisie shrieks in chorus against us.

The bourgeois sees in his wife a mere instrument of production. He hears that instruments of production are to be exploited in common, and naturally cannot imagine but that women will share the same fate.

He does not guess that this is the very problem, to abolish the position of women as mere instruments of production.

Moreover, nothing is more laughable than the highly moral horror of our bourgeois about the Communists’ supposed official community of women. Communists do not need to introduce community of women; it has almost always existedů.

It is self-evident that with the abolition of the present conditions of production would disappear also the consequent community of women, i.e., official and unofficial prostitution.

From this passage, as from all the writings of Social Democrats on the subject, their real attitude is clear. They wish, by securing the economic independence of women, as of labourers, to change marriage from a money purchase of legal property into a free choice on both sides, dictated not by economic motives, but by feeling. Existing strict monogamy, [p.97] they say, rests, like prostitution, on the economic slavery of women, and the Communist state would enable a woman, when strong and adequate grounds existed, to leave her husband without losing her only means of livelihood. They would, perhaps, object to all legal restrictions, but they would most certainly not approve of unbridled license, which they regard — certainly with some justice — as facilitated much more by the present possibility of purchase, than by a state of society where free choice alone would rule.2

3. Internationalism. — In Germany, which has but lately emerged, by a series of successful but arduous wars, from a state of division and political unimportance, the self-preservative instinct of aggressive patriotism has a force which no English Jingo could approach. Positive enmity to France, as the means by which national unity and power were achieved, seems to all ranks of society a solemn duty. In such a milieu, the idea of internationalism, which with us is a mere commonplace, appears as a monstrous and immoral paradox, and can only be understood as positive friendliness to the enemy. Even to the educated and cultivated German, it seems quite out of the question that all the real interests of the nation, so far as they are not bought by the disgrace and lasting enmity of others, can be equally dear to a party which does not regard murder of Frenchmen as the most sacred of duties. “They mock at the holiest feelings of the nation,” people say, and no amount of reiterated explanation can make clear to these people the very simple notion [p.98] that one country has no greater claim to happiness or prosperity than another. This is almost the strongest of all the objections to Social Democracy, and has hindered its growth more, perhaps, than any other single cause.

4. Advocacy of Revolution. — The position of Social Democracy on the question of Revolution, which has been adopted by its friends and misunderstood by its enemies with remarkable consistency, is sufficiently explained by the passage which I quoted from Liebknecht in my last lecture. Social Democrats invariably use the word Revolution, in accordance with the dialectical theory of development by sudden transitions, to mean, not a forcible resistance to established authority, but any great organic change in the constitution of society. In this sense Lassalle declared, as we saw, that Arkwright’s cotton-spinning machine was a revolution; in this sense he declared, when defending himself in Court against the charge of revolution-making, “It (the Revolution) will either come in full legality, with all the blessings of peace, if people have the wisdom to resolve, in time and from above, on its introduction, or it will break in, within a certain time, under all the convulsions of force, with wildly-waving locks and iron sandals on its feet.”

As regards the latter alternative, Revolution, in the ordinary sense of the word, Social Democrats hold, like every serious political party, that they will be justified, at any time when they may attain supreme power, in introducing the changes they desire by any means which may be necessary. They hold, with Lassalle, that in questions of constitution, might alone is right, and [p.99] that, when they have won the might, any surviving opposition may be rightfully suppressed. But they distinguish between might (Macht) and force (Gewalt): the latter, they say, is usually a reactionary power, and is embodied in the army and the police. To use force without being backed by real might, is the policy of the Anarchists, which is uniformly condemned by all responsible Social Democrats.3 But the development of society leads necessarily, so they say, to a continual increase in the number of wage-earners, and a continual diminution in the number of capitalists. We have only to agitate, therefore, to make wage-earners aware of their class-interests, and in time we are sure of winning the preponderant might. Whether, when that stage is reached, we are compelled to use force, must depend entirely on our opponents. But till that time the use of force would be folly, since it could not fail to lead to defeat.

It is important to be clear on this point, as Social Democrats are persistently regarded by their opponents as a set of vulgar revolutionaries, prepared at any moment, wantonly and for the fun of the thing, to cut their neighbours’ throats and cause a temporary reign of terror. In reality, no other attitude than theirs seems possible to serious people; to have the power and not use it, would be cowardice and treachery to the cause.4

[p.100] The above four main causes of popular hatred, together with the momentary panic from the attempts on the Emperors life, sufficiently account for the election of a thoroughly reactionary Parliament. The measure which was laid by Bismarck before the new Reichstag, against the “universally dangerous endeavours of Social Democracy,” though originally designed to expire in May 1881, was prolonged by successive Parliaments, without essential alteration, until October 1890. Its most important provisions were the following: —

§ 1. Associations which aim, by Social Democratic, Socialistic, or Communistic endeavours, at the destruction of the existing order in State or society, are to be forbidden.
       The same holds of Associations in which such endeavours make their appearance in a manner dangerous to the peace, or, in particular, to the harmony between different classes of the population.

§ 9. Meetings in which Social Democratic, Socialistic, or Communistic tendencies, directed to the destruction of the existing order in State or society, make their appearance, are to be dissolved.
       Meetings, of which facts justify the assumption that they are destined to further such tendencies, are to be forbidden.
       Public festivities and processions are placed under the same restrictions.

§ 11. Printed matter, in which Social Democratic, [p.101] Socialistic, or Communistic tendencies, directed to the destruction of the existing order in State and society in a manner dangerous to the peace and, in particular, to the harmony between different classes of the population, make their appearance, is to be forbidden.
       In the case of periodical literature, the prohibition can be extended to any further issue, ae soon as a single number has been forbidden under this law.

§ 16. The collection of contributions for the furthering of Social Democratic, Socialistic, or Communistic endeavours, directed toward the destruction of the existing order in State or society, as also the public instigation to the furnishing of such contributions, are to be forbidden by the police.

§ 20.… The money obtained (by the police) from forbidden collections, or the value of the same, is to be declared to have fallen to the poor-relief fund or the neighbourhood.

§ 24. Persons who make a business of furthering the above-described endeavours, or who have been legally punished under this law, can be deprived by the police of the right to spread literature publicly, either in the course of business or otherwise, as also of the right to the itinerant sale of literature.

§ 28. For districts or localities which are threatened, by the above-mentioned endeavours, with danger to the public safety, the following provisions can be made, for the space of a year at most, by the central police of the state in question, and subject to the permission of the Bundesrath.

(1) That meetings may only take place with the previous permission of the police; this prohibition does not extend to meetings for an election to the Reichstag or the Diet.
(2) That the distribution of printed matter may not take place in public roads, streets, or places, or other public localities. [p.102]
(3) That residence in such districts or localities can be forbidden to all persons from whom danger to the public, safety or order is to be feared.
(4) That the possession, import, or sale of weapons is forbidden, limited, or confined by certain conditions.
The places where this last paragraph was applied were said to be in a minor state of siege. For all the other paragraphs, the local police were the administrators. The usual punishment consisted of a fine of 500 marks (£ 25), or three months’ imprisonment, for the less responsible followers; with longer terms of imprisonment for the leaders.

But it is not from the nominal text of this law that its real nature can be learnt. As I pointed out in discussing the Constitution, the absence of a connecting link between the Reichstag and the executive enables the police to administer the law illegally, and in the present instance, they made the fullest use of this power.

The leaders of the Social Democratic party had resolved that the wisest policy was to wait quietly to see how the law would be administered. In all the later numbers of the official organ, Vorwärts, readers were warned that the Government wished to drive them to desperation, that rash deeds of violent resistance would only be of service to the reaction, and that it was important above all to avoid every unnecessary illegality. For weeks, every number contained, in large print, this warning: —

“Comrades in the work! Do not allow yourselves to be provoked! They wish to fire! The reaction needs riots to win the game.” [p.103]

Then, in the number published on the day when the act came into force, it warned its readers that henceforth it must moderate its tone, must grow colourless and flat, but that it might be trusted to keep the same views at heart.

But although Vorwärts and all the other party papers, to the number of fifty, adopted this milder tone, and carefully avoided all controversial matter — except dry facts, which, under a despotic Government, are apt to become controversial — the police were not to be outwitted. They judged by the former tendency of these papers, and suppressed Vorwärts and the two next most important journals in the first week. By the end of a month, there existed, in the whole of Germany, two alone of the fifty Socialist papers; and these two only survived by adroitly changing their name and tone before the law came into force. In this way, almost all the Social Democratic journalists were deprived of their only means of subsistence. All Socialistic organisations, except the electoral associations, were quickly dissolved; even these, at first, were allowed no activity. Under these rapid blows, the party naturally lost its unity; its central government — vested of necessity in the members of the Reichstag, as the only association which could not be dissolved — was unable to establish any close relations with the scattered disorganised members, and became unpopular with some by its ardent and reiterated exhortations to order and patience. But scarcely were the press and the organisation effectually destroyed than the Government proceeded, on November 28th, only a month after the law had [p.104] come into force, in spite of the almost death-like legality of the Social Democrats, to proclaim the minor state of siege over Berlin. Sixty-seven Social Democrats were banished from Berlin on the first day. These exiles issued together the first Socialist leaflet illegally published under the Exceptional Law, a very typical, instructive document, of which the following is a free translation: —

To our friends and comrades in Berlin.

We, the undersigned, having been stigmatised by the authority of the police as persons from whom a “danger to public order and safety is to be feared,” have been banished from Berlin and its neighbourhood.
       Before we give effect to this decision, and before we desert our homes and our families to go into banishment, we hold it our duty to address a few words to you, our comrades.
       People cast it up against us that we endanger public order.
       Comrades and friends ! You know that as long as we were among you, and could speak to you by voice and pen, our first and last word was:
       No deeds of violence; observe the laws, but fight for your rights within the laws!
       We wish as our farewell to you to repeat these words for the last time, and to urge you to observe them now more than ever, let the future bring what it may.
       Do not allow yourselves to be provoked!
       Do not forget that an infamous system of newspaper lies has succeeded in representing us to public opinion as men capable of every disgraceful act, as men whose purpose is destruction and deeds of violence.
       Every mistake of a single one among us would have the worst consequences for us all, and would give the reaction a justification for its coercive measures. [p.105]
       Comrades! Working-men of Berlin! We go from your midst into exile; as yet we do not know how far the fury of persecution may drive us, but be assured of this: wherever we may tarry, we shall always remain faithful to the common cause, we shall always hold aloft the banner of the proletariat. But to you our request is, keep the peace! Let bur enemies rage and slander us, heed them not!
       Repel the tempters who wish to incite you to riots or secret combinations!
       Hold fast to the solution which we have so often proclaimed to you: By our legality our enemies will be brought to destruction!
       And now, one last word, Friends and Comrades! The decree of banishment has hitherto fallen, with one exception, only on the fathers of families.
       Not one of us is able to leave to those dependent on him, more than the support of the next few days.
       Comrades! remember our wives and our children.
       Fellow-workers, keep the peace! Long live the Proletariat! Long live Social Democracy!

With Social Democratic greetings:

[Here the signatures of the exiled.]

This leaflet was naturally confiscated, nevertheless it was distributed by thousands throughout Berlin.

The minor state of siege was afterwards proclaimed in several other big towns, in Hamburg, Leipzig, Frankfort on the Main, and other places; in all of these, the next elections showed a great increase in the Socialist vote, although the aggregate vote of the party throughout the country considerably decreased. The first rapid blows of the [p.106] persecution destroyed all confidence, all feeling of organised unity, in the party, and at the Congress of Schloss-Wyden, in 1880, the general tone was one of great though resolute depression. This Congress, which, like those of 1883 and 1887, was held in the utmost secrecy, took place in a remote district of Switzerland, in an old ruined castle, which had been quietly fitted up with dormitories and beds of straw for the occasion. A neighbouring town was secretly indicated to the delegates as the place of meeting, but when they arrived, a local Socialist referred them, one by one, to the castle where the Congress really took place. Thus the vigilance of Government was eluded, and many delegates were able to return without having been discovered. The official report, which was published in Zurich, mentions none of the names of the speakers, and reports the speeches very briefly.

In some respects, the outlook was already a better one than under the first shock of the Exceptional Law. The suppression of the German press had led, in the first place, to the establishment of an extreme revolutionary paper in London, Die Freiheit, and then, in the autumn of 1879, to the foundation of a new official organ in Zurich, the Sozialdemokrat. This paper, which was secretly distributed with the greatest energy, and soon began to make a large profit for the party funds, restored, in some measure, the connection between the central authority and the individual members. In all the three Congresses held under the Socialist Law, however, the chief difficulty arose from the unruly violence of the extreme party, who advocated the [p.107] so-called “Propaganda of Action,” and objected to the moderate attitude of the leaders.

Although, in the passage of the programme which declared that the party would strive, by all legal means, for a free state and a socialistic society, the word legal was unanimously struck out by the Congress of 1880, there were many, especially among refugees in foreign countries, who were still dissatisfied, who thought — or declared, to cover past cowardice — that forcible revolt was the only proper course, that the members of the Reichstag had become traitors, and that the policy of passive resistance was cowardly and dishonest. The most extreme supporters of this view split off and formed an Anarchist party of their own, which, however, remained small and unimportant. The less extreme advocates of revolution contented themselves with opposition to the leaders, whose policy was rendered very difficult by Bismarck’s measures of “social reform.” These measures, which provided insurance against accident, sickness, and old age, were, so far as they went, socialistic. It was Bismarck’s aim, first to muzzle the official Social Democrats, and then, by a series of small bribes, to wean the proletariat from their adherence to revolutionary principles.

Bismarck’s State Socialism has excited the admiration of many critics, and it is often supposed that Socialists have been ungrateful in not supporting it more cordially. But in reality the name is very misleading, for there is much more State than Socialism in his policy. This policy may be briefly described as military and bureaucratic despotism, tempered by almsgiving. Leaving aside the large parts of his [p.108] so-called Socialistic legislation which were purely reactionary and mediaeval — re-establishment of guilds, protective duties, etc. — the measures of Progressive Socialism turn out, on inspection, to be designed rather for ornament than for use. The principle of Bismarck’s Insurance Laws is, roughly, that employer and employed, in every branch of wage-earning labour, shall each contribute a small weekly premium, in return for which the workman receives, in the event of accident, sickness, or old age, and those dependent on him receive in case of his death, a weekly payment, whose amount depends on the previous premium paid by the workman in question. This is excellent in theory, but in practice, the expenses of weekly collection arc heavy, and the extension of bureaucracy is vexatious, while no benefit is received from the old age insurance till the age of seventy, and then the sum received cannot exceed 191 marks (about £ 9, 10s) a year, and may not exceed 106.40 marks (about £ 5, 6s) a year. Thus the real gain to the labourer is very minute.

Nevertheless, the principle of Bismarck’s Insurance Laws was one which Socialists could not but approve; the Social Democratic members, therefore, in general supported them, but the majority of the active party, more impressed by the motive than by the effect of these laws, were inclined to regard any support of Bismarck as treachery. Thus a division arose between the members of the Reichstag — who by law were the only possible central authority — and the majority of the party which lasted until the expiration of the Socialist Law in 1890. This division, as well as the attempt to [p.109] reconstruct an organisation, afforded great material to the police, and one worthy member of this maligned body, in a gem of police logic and psychology, entitled “The Secret Organisation of Social Democracy,” 5 throws much light on its difficulties at this time, as also, though unintentionally, on the spirit in which the Exceptional Law was administered. Lest it should seem that we have regarded matters too exclusively from the Socialist standpoint, let us look, for a moment, through the spectacles of this energetic saviour of society, whose profound knowledge of human nature is only surpassed by the imaginative wealth of his metaphors.

He begins, “The battle for the binding of the hydra of Socialism seemed, for a time, more or less hopeless, despite the Exceptional Law, but this is a perspective which has now, fortunately, completely disappeared. We have three factors to thank chiefly for this result: in the first place, the uninterrupted and unwearying watchfulness of our police force, which opposes without scruple every breach and overstepping of the law on the part of Social Democracy. The second factor is the German magistracy, one of whose noblest duties lies in unmasking the dark sneaking courses of those whose sole purpose is the undermining of our present society; and thirdly, it depends on the of all loyal elements, in opposing, with determination and insight, the public, as well as secret, agitation of the Socialist leaders. If these three factors can preserve our present position, then it becomes a fact that Socialism has attained its [p.110] highest point! But the moment the smallest concession is made to this party, if only tacitly, or remissness in punishments, the results we have won are made doubtful!”

Our friend now proceeds to the Exceptional Law and its direct consequences.

The Progressives, he regrets to say, have begun, by arguments unworthy of an answer, to oppose this law, because they desire Socialist votes in the second ballots.

When the Socialist law was first passed, the party was almost annihilated. The officials, of course, were first hit. Some of these gentlemen changed their views, others left Germany, either soon to forget their Socialistic lusts in voluntary exile, or to carry on, from England or America, an Anarchist war “for the liberation of their German brothers.” The final remnant of the agitators who could not, or would not, abandon the occupation they had grown fond of — observe the subtle psychology of this point — sought to accommodate themselves to the altered circumstances of the Exceptional Law, by endeavouring to display in their doings a very noticeable moderation.… The working-men themselves, against whom, least of all, the law was directed, were liberated by it from a party dictation which, with its costly apparatus of agitation and officials, demanded the highest sacrifices of money and time. Hence the law had, for the first two or three years, all desired consequences.

The change in the circumstances of the party, between 1881 and 1885, was rendered possible, he explains, by its attempting an organisation against [p.111] which, in its opinion, the Exceptional Law could raise no objection. The Government, it is true, instantly saw through these tactics, and the breaches were perceived to which, in this proceeding, the Exceptional Law could point. But the general Criminal Law gave of itself an instrument for invalidating this attempted organisation. The action in Elberfeldt, it is true, against the participators in the Wyden Congress broke down, because the organisation, then just beginning, did not yet offer sufficient material for a judicial sentence. 6

After a partially correct account of their organisation, our friend comes to the growth of Social Democracy since the elections of 1881. By means of this new organisation, he says, Social Democracy has again been enabled to grow to an alarming extent. Moreover, the law is not uniformly administered in the different states, and in some they are actually allowed to publish a few newspapers. The Trade Unions — which in Germany are by law forbidden to touch politics — have also been exploited for agitation; the leaders, however, wisely [p.112] remain in the background, and utilise a race of younger men whom they have enveloped in their toils. He then sets forth with great care the illegality of the organisation, but he naively remarks that convictions can only be obtained with great difficulty, for the secret organisation of Social Democracy “is undeniably a sly and careful piece of work.” Hence it is not surprising if a Court does not at once perceive the necessity of an unfavourable verdict.

He concludes with a description of the radical and moderate sections of the party. The moderation of the moderate section he regards, true to the traditions of his calling, as wholly the result of the Socialist law. The radical section, he says, is kept alive by the Sozialdemokrat, for which he reserves some of his choicest language. After describing the “cynical mockeries and vulgar revilings of all that is holy to every nationally-minded German,” he proceeds: “The coarse jokes and vulgar obscenities which are sprinkled throughout its contents are well calculated to enchain the unjudging mass of readers, who then absorb the contents with greedy haste.” This wicked paper, and the centralised organisation, that high school of revolution, keep alive the revolutionary spirit. Let the police be given powers to light these more vigorously, and the hydra will become a perspective which has vanished. This Cheshire cat consummation, we must all agree, is worthy of the best energies of every true-hearted German.

The above account of the reorganisation and revival of the party, in spite of the source from [p.113] which it flows, appears to be substantially correct. It is impossible to discover the exact nature of the Socialist organisation under the Exceptional Law, as the Social Democrats naturally published no accounts of it, and are reticent, for fear of future persecutions, of giving any information on the subject. It is certain, however, that trade unions, singing clubs, clubs for workmen’s education, and all manner of innocent-sounding bodies, were freely used for Socialist propaganda. Committees for the local agitation, which were always small, so as not to attract attention, used to meet “to celebrate a friend’s birthday,” to go for a Sunday walk in the country, or for some other harmless purpose.

In all important centres there was, as at present, a confidential agent (Vertrauensmann), whose business it was to distribute the Sozialdemokrat and other forbidden literature, or to indicate addresses to which packages of contraband literature could be sent from abroad. The confidential agent also had to collect money for general party purposes, and especially for the support of those whom persecution had deprived of the means of subsistence. In this respect, the Social Democrats showed, from the first, the most amazing spirit and self-sacrifice. Although almost all of them belonged to the poorest classes, and although collections of money for party purposes were heavily diminished by the law, they yet succeeded in supporting the wives and families of all who had been imprisoned or banished, and in subscribing compensation for those who had been fined.

At first, candidates for the Reichstag had not been allowed to publish even election addresses or leaflets, [p.114] but after 1881 the Government, finding that the Socialists, in spite of all its efforts, had obtained twelve members in the place of nine, adopted a milder administration of the law. Bismarck still hoped, by this mildness and by his “Social Reform,” to tempt the working-men from the paths of Socialism; but after two elections, those of 1884 and 1887, had shown an increase of unparalleled rapidity in the Socialist vote, the law was again administered with nearly the old rigour. Gradually, however, by the continued increase of the party, everybody except Bismarck became convinced of its uselessness; with the accession of the present Emperor, who wished to pose, like Frederick the Great, as the king of beggars, a more friendly attitude was adopted towards the working classes. Bismarck was dismissed, and the Law was allowed, after a last fruitless attempt at renewal in a milder form, to expire on September 30, 1890. 7

Under this infamous Law, the crowning endeavour of the enlightened police state, an aggregate punishment of 831 years’ imprisonment — to say nothing of fines, banishments, etc. — was inflicted on the Social Democrats of Germany. It is by this Law that Bismarck is remembered among them, and if they seem ungrateful for his Positive Reform and State-Socialism, we must remember what the German State is — we must remember that State-Socialism means an increase of the powers of Absolutism and [p.115] Police Rule, and that acquiescence in such a state, whatever bribes it may offer to labour, is acquiescence in the suppression of all free speech and all free thought; is acquiescence in intellectual stagnation and moral servility.

*  Bertrand Russell, Lecture 4, 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 Wilhelm Hasenclever, in Der freie Sänger, Eine Sammlung Sozial-demokratischer Lieder und Deklamationen, 20th ed. New York, 1893

2 For a fuller treatment of this subject, see Appendix

3 Vide Liebknecht’s speech on this subject at the Sanct-Gallen Congress, 1887

4 To prove the correctness of the above account, I subjoin a list of references: Marx, “Capital,” English translation, vol. i. p. 776; Lassalle, Reden und Schriften, ed. Bernstein, vol. ii. pp. 22, 23, 24, 383; Der Hochverraths-Prozess wider Liebknecht, Bebel und Hepner, Berlin, 1895, pp. 71, 160-161; Bebel, Unsere Ziele, 10th ed., pp. 19, 53; Protokoll des Wydener Kongresses der deutschen Sozialdemokratie, Zurich, 1880, p. 40; Sanct-Gallen Protokoll, Hottingen-Zurich, 1888, pp. 39-43; Nach Zehn Jahren, London, 1889, vol. i. pp. 55, 67, 70-71, 80

5 2nd edition,1887

6 He refers here to the prosecutions for secret conspiracy, which were brought, after all three Congresses, against those of the participators whom the Government could lay hands on. At first, these prosecutions failed, but after an acquittal of the participators in the Copenhagen Congress (1883), the Government, determined to have its war, declared the verdict invalid, and ordered a second trial. In this trial it was decided that the official leaders of the party, since the forbidden Sozialdemokrat was their official organ, and they incited their followers to distribute it, constituted an association for incitement to illegal actions. They were all sentenced to six months’ imprisonment; the Sozialdemokrat publicly declared that, since it had brought punishment on the leaders by being the official organ, it was no longer the official organ but would preserve its former tone, and all went on as before.

7 The defeat, in the spring of 1895, of the Umsturzvorlage, a less strenuous proposal for repressive legislation, gives grounds for the hope that future bills of a similar tendency will not be carried, and that Exceptional Laws are at an end.