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 Review of German Social Democracy  (1897)*


German Social Democracy. Six Lectures by Bertrand Russell, B.A., Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. With an Appendix on Social Democracy and the Woman Question in Germany by Alys Russell, B.A. London, New York, and Bombay: Longmans, Green & Co. 1896

German Social Democracy, by Mr. Bertrand Russell, is an excellent and capable piece of work. Mr. Russell prefaces his history of German Socialism by a careful and appreciative preliminary account of Marx’s philosophy, showing the sources from which it sprang and the motives which led him to give it an economic form. This is followed by a still briefer epitome of the connection of Lassalle with the movement, and who was the first man, says Mr. Russell, to fling Marx’s doctrines to the people and to awaken in them the feelings of class interests. “That Lassalle,” he writes, “practically created the German labour movement, that it long bore and still bears in part the stamp of his personality, is indubitable.”

With Lassalle’s death commences the history of German Social Democracy. His immediate successor was Bernhard Becker, under whose mismanagement the Universal Association soon went to pieces. In 1867 he was replaced by Schweitzer, whose intrigues with Bismarck cost him the presidency in 1871, and in 1875 the Association amalgamated with the Social Democrats, and thorough-going Marxian communion from that time represented the faith of the German Democratic party.

The spread of their views and the attempt on the life of the Emperor in 1878 by two alleged Socialists, who appear to have been mere muddle-headed lunatics, produced the Exceptional Law of 1878, which was prolonged by successive Parliaments until 1890.

Mr. Russell describes Bismarck’s policy of “social reform” as military and bureaucratic despotism tempered by almsgiving. His State-Socialism meant “an increase of absolutism and police rule, and that acquiescence in such a State, whatever bribes it may offer, is acquiescence in the suppression of all free speech and all free thought; is acquiescence in intellectual stagnation and moral servility.”

It is almost impossible for an English citizen to realise the hopeless political condition of the German working classes. The Social Democratic party is not revolutionary, and it will be the fault of the classes who support the present system if it ever becomes so. The Emperor William II is the representative of everything that is hostile to advance in civilisation or freedom. The Social Democrats are fighting the battle of freedom against a crushing militarism and despotism, buoyed up by the vested interests. Whatever may be thought of their ideals, their demand for “cessation of persecution, complete and entire democracy, absolute freedom of coalition, of speech, and of the press,” must be granted, or “war and extinction of the national life are the almost inevitable doom of the German empire.”

The appendix contains an admirable paper on the Woman Question in relation to Social Democracy in Germany. We can confidently recommend this book to all who desire to obtain clear ideas upon this subject.

*  Anonymous review of German Social Democracy, The Westminster Review 147 (Mar 1897), 345-6