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August Bebel

Ferdinand August Bebel (22 February 1840, Deutz, Cologne – 13 August 1913 Passugg, Graubünden) was a German Marxist politician, writer, and orator. He is best remembered as one of the founders of the Social Democratic Party of Germany.


Early years

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

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.

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]

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 reading the 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]

Political career

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.

File:Bundesarchiv Bild 183-14077-0005, August Bebel.jpg

August Bebel in 1898

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 the only socialist who was 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 (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]

Bebel's book, Women and Socialism was translated into English by Daniel DeLeon of the Socialist Labor Party of America as Woman under Socialism.[8] 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.[9] The book contained an attack on the institution of marriage which identified Bebel with the most extreme forms of socialism.[6]

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Bebel´s tombstone at Sihlfeld cemetery, Zurich

Death and legacy

August Bebel died August 13, 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 V.I. 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."[10]

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.[11]

English language works

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 "Ferdinand August Bebel," Encyclopedia Americana, 1920.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 "August Bebel, German Socialist Leader, Dies in Switzerland," The Weekly People [New York], vol. 23, no. 21 (August 23, 1913), pp. 1-2.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Ferdinand August Bebel," Collier's New Encyclopedia, 1920.
  4. V.I. Lenin, "August Bebel," Severnaia Pravada, August 6, 1913. Reprinted in V.I. Lenin, Collected Works: Volume 19. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1963; pg. 297.
  5. Andrei Pozdnyakov, "August Bebel," Karl Marx, Frederick Engels Collected Works: Volume 44. New York: International Publishers, 1989; pg. 684.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 "Ferdinand August Bebel," Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Ferdinand August Bebel," New International Encyclopedia, 1905. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "nie" defined multiple times with different content
  8. August Bebel: Women and Socialism, Translation by Meta L. Stern (Hebe), Socialist Literature Co., New York 1910.
  9. James Connolly & Daniel DeLeon: The Connolly-DeLeon controversy. Cork Workers' Club, Cork 1976.
  10. V.I. Lenin, "August Bebel," Collected Works: Vol. 19, pp. 300-301.
  11. Richard J. Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich (Penguin Group, 2005: ISBN 0143034693), p. 496.

External links


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