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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 The Social Democratic Workers' Party of Germany (german: Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands, SDAP) was a Marxist socialist political party A political party is an organization that coordinates candidates to compete in a particu ...
(SDAP) in 1869, which in 1875 merged with the
General German Workers' Association The General German Workers' Association (german: Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiter-Verein, ADAV) was a German political party founded on 23 May 1863 in Leipzig Leipzig (, also , ; Upper Saxon: ) is the most populous city in the Germany, German Sta ...
into the
Socialist Workers' Party of Germany The Socialist Workers' Party of Germany (german: Sozialistische Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands, SAPD) was a Centrist Marxism, centrist Marxist political party in Germany. It was formed as a left-wing party with around 20,000 members which split off ...
(SAPD). During the repression under the terms of the
Anti-Socialist Laws The Anti-Socialist Laws or Socialist Laws (german: Sozialistengesetze; officially ''Gesetz gegen die gemeingefährlichen Bestrebungen der Sozialdemokratie'', approximately "Law against the public danger of Social Democratic endeavours") were a seri ...
, Bebel became the leading figure of the
social democratic Social democracy is a Political philosophy, political, Social philosophy, social, and economic philosophy within socialism that supports Democracy, political and economic democracy. As a policy regime, it is described by academics as advocatin ...
movement in Germany and from 1892 until his death served as chairman of the
Social Democratic Party of Germany The Social Democratic Party of Germany (german: Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, ; SPD, ) is a social democratic Social democracy is a political Politics (from , ) is the set of activities that are associated with Decision-makin ...
.


Biography


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 Cologne ( ; german: Köln ; ksh, Kölle ) is the largest city of Germany, Germany's most populous States of Germany, state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) and the List of cities in Germany by population, fourth-most populous city and one of t ...

Cologne
. He was the son of a
Prussia Prussia, , Old Prussian Distribution of the Baltic tribes, circa 1200 CE (boundaries are approximate). Old Prussian was a Western Baltic language belonging to the Balto-Slavic branch of the Indo-European languages The Indo-Europ ...

Prussia
n
noncommissioned officer A non-commissioned officer (NCO) is a military officer who has not pursued a commission Commission or commissioning may refer to: Business and contracting * Commission (remuneration), a form of payment to an agent for services rendered ** Commi ...
in the Prussian infantry, initially from
Ostrowo
Ostrowo
in the
Province of Posen The Province of Posen (german: Provinz Posen, pl, Prowincja Poznańska) was a Provinces of Prussia, province of Prussia from 1848 to 1920. Posen was established as a province of the Kingdom of Prussia in 1848 after the Greater Poland Uprising (18 ...
, and was born in military barracks. The father died in 1844. As a young man, Bebel apprenticed as a carpenter and joiner in
Leipzig Leipzig (, ; Upper Saxon: ) is the most populous city in the Germany, German States of Germany, state of Saxony. With a population of 605,407 inhabitants as of 2021 (1.1 million residents in the larger urban zone), it surpasses the Saxon c ...

Leipzig
."August Bebel, German Socialist Leader, Dies in Switzerland," ''The Weekly People'' ew York vol. 23, no. 21 (23 August 1913), pp. 1–2. Like most German workmen at that time, he travelled 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 Salzburg (, ; literally "Salt Castle"; bar, Soizbuag, label=Bavarian language, Austro-Bavarian) is the List of cities and towns in Austria, fourth-largest city in Austria. In 2020, it had a population of 156,872. The town is on the site of the ...

Salzburg
, where he lived for some time, he joined a
Roman Catholic Roman or Romans most often refers to: *Rome , established_title = Founded , established_date = 753 BC , founder = King Romulus , image_map = Map of comune of Rome (metropolitan city of Capital Rome, region Laz ...

Roman Catholic
workmen's club. When in
Tyrol Tyrol (; historically the Tyrole; german: Tirol ; it, Tirolo) is a historical region Historical regions (or historical areas) are geographical Geography (from Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Gre ...
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. In 1860 he settled in Leipzig as a master turner, making horn buttons. He joined various labour organisations. Although initially an opponent of socialism, Bebel gradually was won over to socialist ideas through pamphlets of
Ferdinand Lassalle Ferdinand Lassalle (; 11 April 1825 – 31 August 1864) was a Prussia Prussia, , Old Prussian Distribution of the Baltic tribes, circa 1200 CE (boundaries are approximate). Old Prussian was a Western Baltic language belonging to t ...

Ferdinand Lassalle
, which popularized the ideas of
Karl Marx Karl Heinrich Marx (; 5 May 1818 – 14 March 1883) was a German philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, M ...

Karl Marx
.Vladimir Lenin, "August Bebel," ''Severnaia Pravada,'' 6 August 1913. Reprinted in Vladimir Lenin, ''Collected Works: Volume 19.'' Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1963; p. 297. In 1865 he came under the influence of
Wilhelm Liebknecht Wilhelm Martin Philipp Christian Ludwig Liebknecht (; 29 March 1826 – 7 August 1900) was a German socialist and one of the principal founders of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD).
and was thereafter committed fully to the socialist cause. In 1866 he joined the
First International The International Workingmen's Association (IWA), often called the First International (1864–1876), was an international organization, international organisation which aimed at uniting a variety of different Left-wing politics, left-wing Soc ...
.


Political career

Following the death of Lassalle, Bebel was among the group of Socialists that refused to follow new party leader at the Eisenach Conference of 1867, an action which gave rise to the name "Eisenachers" for this Marxist faction. Together with Liebknecht, he founded the ''
Sächsische Volkspartei The Saxon People's Party (german: Sächsische Volkspartei) was a left-liberal and radical democratic party in Germany ) , image_map = , map_caption = , map_width = 250px , capital = Berlin , coordinates = , largest_city = capital , ...
'' ("Saxon People's Party"). Bebel was also President of the Union of German Workers' Associations from 1867 and a member of the
First International The International Workingmen's Association (IWA), often called the First International (1864–1876), was an international organization, international organisation which aimed at uniting a variety of different Left-wing politics, left-wing Soc ...
. Bebel was elected to the
North German Northern Germany (german: Norddeutschland) is the region In geography Geography (from Ancient Greek, Greek: , ''geographia'', literally "earth description") is a field of science devoted to the study of the lands, features, inhabitants ...
Reichstag is a German word generally meaning parliament, more directly translated as ''Diet (assembly), Diet of the Realm'' or ''National diet'', or more loosely as ''Imperial Diet''. It may refer to: Buildings and places is the god specific German word ...
as a member from
Saxony Saxony (german: Sachsen ; Upper Saxon Upper Saxon (german: Obersächsisch, ; ) is an East Central German East Central German (german: Ostmitteldeutsch) is the eastern, non-Franconian languages, Franconian Central German language, part o ...

Saxony
in that same year. In 1869 he helped found the
Social Democratic Workers' Party of Germany The Social Democratic Workers' Party of Germany (german: Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands, SDAP) was a Marxist socialist political party A political party is an organization that coordinates candidates to compete in a particu ...
(SDAP), which later merged with another organisation in 1875 to form the (SAPD), which in turn became the
Social Democratic Party of Germany The Social Democratic Party of Germany (german: Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, ; SPD, ) is a social democratic Social democracy is a political Politics (from , ) is the set of activities that are associated with Decision-makin ...
(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 German Empire or the Imperial State of Germany,, officially '.Herbert Tuttle Herbert Tuttle (1846–1894) was an American historian. Biography Herbert Tuttle was born in Bennington, Vermont Bennington is a New England town, town ...
, the
Reichstag is a German word generally meaning parliament, more directly translated as ''Diet (assembly), Diet of the Realm'' or ''National diet'', or more loosely as ''Imperial Diet''. It may refer to: Buildings and places is the god specific German word ...
, until his death, except for the interval of 1881–83. He represented successively the districts of
Glauchau Glauchau () is a town in the German federal state A federation (also known as a federal state) is a political entity characterized by a union of partially self-governing provinces, states, or other regions under a central federal gove ...
-
Meerane Meerane () is a town in the Zwickau (district), Zwickau district of Saxony, Germany. It lies midway between the towns of Altenburg and Zwickau, west of Chemnitz. As of 31 December 2015, there were 14,851 inhabitants.http://www.meerane.de/meerane/ ...
,
Dresden Dresden (, ; wen, label=Sorbian languages, Upper and Lower Sorbian, Drježdźany) is the capital city of the Germany, German States of Germany, state of Saxony and its second most populous city, after Leipzig. It is the List of cities in German ...

Dresden
,
Strassburg Strasbourg (, , ; german: Straßburg ; gsw, label=Bas Rhin Bas-Rhin (; Alsatian: ''Unterelsàss'', ' or '; traditional german: links=no, Niederrhein; en, Lower Rhine) is a department Department may refer to: * Departmentalization, divi ...
, and
Hamburg en, Hamburgian(s) , timezone1 = Central (CET) , utc_offset1 = +1 , timezone1_DST = Central (CEST) , utc_offset1_DST = +2 , postal_code_type = Post ...

Hamburg
. 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. In 1870 he spoke in parliament against the continuance of the war with France. Bebel and Liebknecht were the only members who did not vote the extraordinary subsidy required for the war with France. Bebel was one of only two socialists elected to the Reichstag in
1871 Events January–March * January 3 Events Pre-1600 * 69 – The Roman legions on the Rhine refuse to declare their allegiance to Galba Galba (; born Servius Sulpicius Galba; 24 December 3 BC – 15 January AD 69) was a Roman ...
, and he used his position to protest against the annexation of
Alsace-Lorraine The Imperial Territory of Alsace-Lorraine (german: Reichsland Elsaß-Lothringen or ; gsw-als, 's Rìchslànd Elsàss-Lothrìnga; Moselle Franconian __NOTOC__ Moselle Franconian (German ''Moselfränkisch'') is a West Central German language ...

Alsace-Lorraine
and to express his full sympathy with the
Paris Commune The Paris Commune (french: Commune de Paris, ) was a revolutionary government that seized power in Paris from 18 March to 28 May 1871. During the , Paris had been defended by the , where radicalism grew among soldiers. In March 1871, after th ...
. German Chancellor
Otto von Bismarck Otto, Prince of Bismarck, Count of Bismarck-Schönhausen, Duke of Lauenburg (german: Otto Fürst von Bismarck, Graf von Bismarck-Schönhausen, Herzog zu Lauenburg ; 1 April 1815 – 30 July 1898), born Otto Eduard Leopold von Bismarck, was a c ...

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. Falsely accused of being in league with the French and part of a conspiracy to free French
prisoners of war A prisoner of war (POW) is a non-combatant Non-combatant is a term of art Jargon is the specialized terminology associated with a particular field or area of activity. Jargon is normally employed in a particular Context (language use), co ...
held in Germany and to lead them in an attack from the rear, Bebel and Liebknecht were arrested for
high treason Treason is the crime of attacking a Sovereign state, state authority to which one owes allegiance. This typically includes acts such as participating in a war against one's native country, attempting to Coup d'etat, overthrow its government, Es ...
, but no prosecution was possible for lack of evidence. 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. The pair were convicted and sentenced to two years in ' (imprisonment in a fortress), which was spent at the famous
Königstein Fortress Königstein Fortress (german: Festung Königstein), the "Saxony, Saxon Bastille", is a hilltop fortress near Dresden, in Saxon Switzerland, Germany, above the town of Königstein, Saxony, Königstein on the left bank of the River Elbe. It is one ...

Königstein Fortress
. For insulting the German emperor, Bebel was additionally sentenced to nine months' ordinary imprisonment. This incarceration served to increase Bebel's prestige among his party associates and the sympathetic public at large. 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. 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 ''Vorwärts'' (, "Forward") is a newspaper A newspaper is a periodical Periodical literature (also called a periodical publication or simply a periodical) is a category of serial Serial may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media T ...

Vorwärts
'' ("Forward") at
Berlin Berlin (; ) is the Capital city, capital and List of cities in Germany by population, largest city of Germany by both area and population. Its 3,769,495 inhabitants, as of 31 December 2019 makes it the List of cities in the European Union by ...

Berlin
. After his release from prison, he helped to organise, at the congress of
Gotha Gotha () is the fifth-largest city in Thuringia Thuringia (; german: Thüringen ), officially the Free State of Thuringia ( ), is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazi ...
, 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 ''State of Siege'' () is a 1972 French film directed by Costa-Gavras Costa-Gavras (short for Konstantinos Gavras; el, Κωνσταντίνος Γαβράς; born 12 February 1933) is a Greek-French film director, screenwriter and producer who ...
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. 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. Already in 1911 amid the rising tensions between the European powers, Bebel publicly predicted an upcoming
great war World War I, often abbreviated as WWI or WW1, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war A world war is "a war War is an intense armed conflict between states State may refer to: Arts, entertainmen ...

great war
with millions of soldiers confronting each other followed by a great collapse, "mass bankruptcy, mass misery, mass unemployment and great famine." In 1899, at the Hanover Congress of the SPD, Bebel delivered a speech condemning
Eduard Bernstein Eduard Bernstein (; 6 January 1850 – 18 December 1932) was a German social democratic Social democracy is a political Politics (from , ) is the set of activities that are associated with Decision-making, making decisions in Social ...

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.


Class, race, religion 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 Albert (german: Albert; 23 April 1828 – 19 June 1902) was the monarch, King of Kingdom of Saxony, Saxony and a member of the House of Wettin. He was the eldest son of Prince John of Saxony, John (who succeeded his brother Frederick Augustus ...

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. Speaking before the ''Reichstag'', Bebel criticised the war to crush the
Boxer Rebellion The Boxer Rebellion, Boxer Uprising or Yihetuan Movement, was an armed and violent , , and insurrection in China between 1899 and 1901, towards the end of the . It was initiated by the Militia United in Righteousness (''Yìhéquán''), kno ...

Boxer Rebellion
in
China China (), officially the People's Republic of China (PRC; ), is a country in East Asia East Asia is the eastern region of Asia Asia () is Earth's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the Eastern Hemisphere ...

China
in 1900, saying: Bebel is also famed for his outrage at the news of German mistreatment of indigenous people in its South-West African colony, the Herero people, 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, 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). 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 (racial term), Hottentot Election." Bebel's book, ''Women and Socialism'' was translated into English by Daniel De Leon of the Socialist Labor Party of America as ''Woman under Socialism''. It figured prominently in the Connolly-DeLeon controversy after James Connolly, then a member of the Socialist Labor Party of America, SLP, denounced it as a "quasi-prurient" book that would repel potential recruits to the socialist movement. The book contained an attack on the institution of marriage which identified Bebel with the most extreme forms of socialism. 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. In 1898 he voiced his support for the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the Reichstag. Bebel held that religion is a "private matter", believing that the SPD should be neutral on the question of religion while advocating secularism. Bebel considered himself both a patriot and an internationalist believing them to not be antagonistic but instead supplemental.


Death and legacy

August Bebel died on 13 August 1913 of a heart attack during a visit to a sanatorium in Churwalden, 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." 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.Richard J. Evans, ''The Coming of the Third Reich'' (Penguin Group, 2005: ), p. 496. Along with
Karl Marx Karl Heinrich Marx (; 5 May 1818 – 14 March 1883) was a German philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, M ...

Karl Marx
, Friedrich Engels and
Ferdinand Lassalle Ferdinand Lassalle (; 11 April 1825 – 31 August 1864) was a Prussia Prussia, , Old Prussian Distribution of the Baltic tribes, circa 1200 CE (boundaries are approximate). Old Prussian was a Western Baltic language belonging to t ...

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


''Women in the Past, Present, and Future.''
London: Reeves, 1885. US Edition: San Francisco: G. Benham, 1897.
''Assassinations and Socialism: From a Speech by August Bebel, Delivered at Berlin, November 2, 1898.''
New York: New York Labor News Co., n.d. [c. 1899]. * ''Beber.'' New York: International Publishers, 1901. * ''Socialism and the German Kaiser: Two Speeches.'' With Georg Heinrich von Vollmar. London: Clarion Press, 1903.
''Women Under Socialism.''
New York: New York Labor News Co., 1904. New translation: ''Women and Socialism.'' New York: Socialist Literature Co., 1910. * ''Trade Unions and Political Parties.'' Milwaukee: Social-Democratic Publishing Co., 1906.
''Bebel's Reminiscences.''
New York: Socialist Literature Co., 1911. * ''The Intellectual Ability of Women.'' New York: Cooperative Press, n.d. [c. 1912].
''My Life.''
London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1912. * ''Speeches of August Bebel.'' New York: International Publishers, 1928. *
Society of the Future
'. Moscow: Progress Publishers. 1976. (an abridged translation of the last part of Bebel's ''Women and Socialism'')


See also

*Bebelplatz, public square in
Berlin Berlin (; ) is the Capital city, capital and List of cities in Germany by population, largest city of Germany by both area and population. Its 3,769,495 inhabitants, as of 31 December 2019 makes it the List of cities in the European Union by ...

Berlin
named after August Bebel


References


External links

* * *
Biography of August Bebel
Retrieved 31 May 2007.

Marxists Internet Archive, www.marxists.org/ Retrieved 31 August 2010. * * Ulrich Rippert:
August Bebel and the political awakening of the working class
', wsws.org Retrieved 28 August 2013. * Archive o
August Bebel Papers
at the International Institute of Social History * {{DEFAULTSORT:Bebel, August 1840 births 1913 deaths Politicians from Cologne People from the Rhine Province Social Democratic Party of Germany politicians Members of the Reichstag of the North German Confederation Members of the 1st Reichstag of the German Empire Members of the 2nd Reichstag of the German Empire Members of the 3rd Reichstag of the German Empire Members of the 4th Reichstag of the German Empire Members of the 6th Reichstag of the German Empire Members of the 7th Reichstag of the German Empire Members of the 8th Reichstag of the German Empire Members of the 9th Reichstag of the German Empire Members of the 10th Reichstag of the German Empire Members of the 11th Reichstag of the German Empire Members of the 12th Reichstag of the German Empire Members of the 13th Reichstag of the German Empire Members of the Second Chamber of the Diet of the Kingdom of Saxony Prussian politicians Socialist feminists Political party founders German feminists Male feminists Marxist theorists German prisoners and detainees