August Bebel, the son of a noncommissioned officer in the Prussian Army was born in Deutz on 22nd February, 1840. He later recalled: "The family of a Prussian petty-officer in those days lived in very penurious circumstances. The salary was more than scanty, and altogether the military and official world of Prussia lived poorly at that time.... My mother obtained permission to keep a sort of a canteen, in other words, she had license to sell sundry articles of daily use to the garrison. This was done in the only room at our disposal. I can still see mother before me as she stood in the light of a lamp fed by rape-oil and filled the earthen bowls of the soldiers with steaming potatoes in their jackets, at the rate of 6 Prussian pennies per bowl."
After leaving school he worked as a carpenter in Leipzig, Salzburg and Tyrol. In 1859 he attempted to join the army but was rejected as being physically unfit. Bebel became interested in politics and took part in trade union activities. He became a socialist after reading the work of Ferdinand Lassalle, which popularized the ideas of Karl Marx.
Bebel distributed copies of Lassalle's pamphlets to fellow workers. He admitted in his autobiography, Reminiscences (1911): "The open letter of Lassalle did not make at all such apt impression upon the world of labor as had been expected, in the first place, by Lassalle himself; in the second place, by the small circle of his followers. For my part, I distributed about two dozen copies in the Industrial Educational Club, in order to give the other side a chance. That the letter should have made so little impression upon the majority of the laborers in the movement of that time, may seem inexplicable today to some people. But it was quite natural. Not merely the economic, but also the political conditions were still very backward. Professional freedom, free migration, liberty to settle down, exemption from passports, liberty to wander, freedom of association and assembly, such were the demands that appealed more closely to the laborer of that time than productive associations subsidized by the state, of which he had no clear conception."
A group of trade unionists that became known collectively as the "junta" urged the establishment of an international organisation. This included Robert Applegarth, William Allan, George Odger and Johann Eccarius. "The aim of the Junta was to satisfy the new demands which were being voiced by the workers as an outcome of the economic crisis and the strike movement. They hoped to broaden the narrow outlook of British trade unionism, and to induce the unions to participate in the political struggle".
On September 28, 1864, an international meeting for the reception of the French delegates took place in St. Martin’s Hall in London. The meeting was organised by George Howell and attended by a wide array of radicals, including August Bebel, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Élisée Reclus, Ferdinand Lassalle, William Greene, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Friedrich Sorge and Louis Auguste Blanqui. The historian Edward Spencer Beesly was in the chair and he advocated "a union of the workers of the world for the realisation of justice on earth".
In his speech, Beesly "pilloried the violent proceedings of the governments and referred to their flagrant breaches of international law. As an internationalist he showed the same energy in denouncing the crimes of all the governments, Russian, French, and British, alike. He summoned the workers to the struggle against the prejudices of patriotism, and advocated a union of the toilers of all lands for the realisation of justice on earth."
The new organisation was called the International Workingmen's Association. Karl Marx was asked to become a member of the General Council that consisted of two Germans, two Italians, three Frenchmen and twenty-seven Englishmen (eleven of them from the building trade). Marx was proposed as President but as he later explained: "I declared that under no circumstances could I accept such a thing, and proposed Odger in my turn, who was then in fact re-elected, although some people voted for me despite my declaration."
In 1865 he met Wilhelm Liebknecht. Bebel later recalled: "Liebknecht’s genuine fighter’s nature was keyed up by an impregnable optimism, without which no great aim can be accomplished. No blow that struck him, personally or the party, could rob him for a minute of his courage or of his composure. Nothing took him unawares; he always knew a way out. Against the attacks of his antagonists his watchword was: Meet one rascal by one and a half. He was harsh and ruthless against our opponents, but always a good comrade to his friends and associates, ever trying to smooth over existing difficulties."
Over the next few years the worked together in an effort to spread the ideas of Karl Marx. In 1868 he won a seat in the Reichstag. The following year Bebel and Liebknecht formed the Social Democratic Workers' Party of Germany (SDAP) together. Bebel and Liebknecht also established a newspaper, Der Volksstaat. In 1870 the two men used the newspaper to promote the idea that Otto von Bismarck had provoked France into war and called on workers from both countries to unite in overthrowing the ruling class. As a result, Bebel and Liebknecht were arrested and charged with high treason. In 1872, both men were convicted and sentenced to two years in the Königstein Fortress.
On his release in 1874 Bebel was elected to the Reichstag. The following year he helped the SDAP merge with the General German Workers' Association (ADAV), an organisation led by Ferdinand Lassalle, to form the Social Democratic Party (SDP). In the 1877 General Election in Germany the SDP won 12 seats. This worried Otto von Bismarck, and in 1878 he introduced an anti-socialist law which banned Social Democratic Party meetings and publications.
In 1879 August Bebel published Woman and Socialism. In the book Bebel argued that it was the goal of socialists "not only to achieve equality of men and women under the present social order, which constitutes the sole aim of the bourgeois women's movement, but to go far beyond this and to remove all barriers that make one human being dependent upon another, which includes the dependence of one sex upon another."
The book had a tremendous influence on fellow members of the Social Democratic Party. This included Karl Schmidt who gave it to his daughter, Käthe Kollwitz to read. She was particularly impressed with one passage of the book that stated: "In the new society women will be entirely independent, both socially and economically... The development of our social life demands the release of woman from her narrow sphere of domestic life, and her full participation in public life and the missions of civilisation." Bebel also predicted the dissolution of marriage, believing that socialism would free women from their second-class status.
After the anti-socialist law ceased to operate in 1890, the SDP grew rapidly. However, Bebel had problems with divisions in the party. Eduard Bernstein, a member of the SDP, who had been living in London, became convinced that the best way to obtain socialism in an industrialized country was through trade union activity and parliamentary politics. He published a series of articles where he argued that the predictions made by Karl Marx about the development of capitalism had not come true. He pointed out that the real wages of workers had risen and the polarization of classes between an oppressed proletariat and capitalist, had not materialized. Nor had capital become concentrated in fewer hands. Bernstein's revisionist views appeared in his extremely influential book Evolutionary Socialism (1899). His analysis of modern capitalism undermined the claims that Marxism was a science and upset leading revolutionaries such as Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky.
In 1901 Bernstein returned to Germany. This brought him into conflict with left-wing of the Social Democrat Party that rejected his revisionist views on how socialism could be achieved. This included those like Bebel, Karl Kautsky, Clara Zetkin, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, who still believed that a Marxist revolution was still possible.
During the 1905 Revolution Luxemburg and Leo Jogichesreturned to Warsaw where they were soon arrested. Luxemburg's experiences during the failed revolution changed her views on international politics. Until then, Luxemburgbelieved that a socialist revolution was most likely to take place in an advanced industrialized country such as Germany or France. She now argued it could happen in an underdeveloped country like Russia.
At the Social Democratic Party Congress in September 1905, Rosa Luxemburg called for party members to be inspired by the attempted revolution in Russia. "Previous revolutions, especially the one in 1848, have shown that in revolutionary situations it is not the masses who have to be held in check, but the parliamentarians and lawyers, so that they do not betray the masses and the revolution." She then went onto quote from The Communist Manifesto: "The workers have nothing to lose but their chains; they had a world to win."
Bebel did not share Luxemburg's views that now was the right time for revolution. He later recalled: "Listening to all that, I could not help glancing a couple of times at the toes of my boots to see if they weren't already wading in blood." However, he preferred Luxemburg to Eduard Bernstein and he appointed her to the editorial board of the SPD newspaper, Vorwarts (Forward). In a letter to Leo Jogiches she wrote: "The editorial board will consist of mediocre writers, but at least they'll be kosher... Now the Leftists have got to show that they are capable of governing."
In 1906 Rosa Luxemburg published her thoughts on revolution in The Mass Strike, the Political Party and the Trade Unions. She argued that a general strike had the power to radicalize the workers and bring about a socialist revolution. "The mass strike is the first natural, impulsive form of every great revolutionary struggle of the proletariat and the more highly developed the antagonism is between capital and labour, the more effective and decisive must mass strikes become. The chief form of previous bourgeois revolutions, the fight at the barricades, the open conflict with the armed power of the state, is in the revolution today only the culminating point, only a moment on the process of the proletarian mass struggle."
These views were not well received by Bebel and other party leaders. Luxemburg wrote to Clara Zetkin: "The situation is simply this: August Bebel, and still more so the others, have completely spent themselves on behalf of parliamentarism and in parliamentary struggles. Whenever anything happens which transcends the limits of parliamentarism, they are completely hopeless - no, even worse than that, they try their best to force everything back into the parliamentary mould, and they will furiously attack as an enemy of the people anyone who wants to go beyond these limits."
Despite these conflicts between the left, headed by Rosa Luxemburg, and right led by Eduard Bernstein, the S won 110 seats in the Reichstag in the election of 1912. The Social Democratic Party (SDP) was now the largest political party in Germany.
The family of a Prussian petty-officer in those days lived in very penurious circumstances. The salary was more than scanty, and altogether the military and official world of Prussia lived poorly at that time. Most of them had to pull in their belts and starve for God, King and Country. My mother obtained permission to keep a sort of a canteen, in other words, she had license to sell sundry articles of daily use to the garrison. This was done in the only room at our disposal. I can still see mother before me as she stood in the light of a lamp fed by rape-oil and filled the earthen bowls of the soldiers with steaming potatoes in their jackets, at the rate of 6 Prussian pennies per bowl. For us children - my first brother came in April, 1841, and a second followed to the summer of 1842 - life in the casemate was full of delights. We rambled thru the rooms, petted or teased by the petty-officers and soldiers. When the rooms were vacant, while the men were out for drill, I would go to one of the rooms and get the guitar of petty-officer Wintermann, who was also my god-father, and I would carry on my musical exercises till there was not a whole string left on the instrument. In order to sidetrack me from these destructive musical exercises and escape their dire results, he whittled a guitar-like contrivance from a piece of board for me, and stretched some gut-strings across it. From then on, I would sit for hours on the doorstep facing a yard on the main street of Deutz, with this “instrument,” and with my brother, maltreating these strings so much that I “charmed” the two daughters of a captain of dragoons, who lived opposite us. They often regaled me for my musical accomplishments with cake or candy. Of course, the military exercises did not suffer from these musical practices. The incentive for the military exercises came from the entire environment; it was literally in the air. So as soon as I put on my first coat and my first trousers, which, of course, had been manufactured from an old military overcoat of father’s, I took a position by the side of the soldiers, drilling on the open square to front of the casemate, or behind them, and imitated their movements. My mother often told me humorously later on, that I was a master in the art of swinging into front, right and left. This exercise gave the men much trouble, and it is said that the commanding officer, or petty-officer, used to point me out as an example to the men.
In the beginning of March, 1863, appeared Lassalle’s, “Open Letter to the Central Committee for the calling of a general congress of German laborers in Leipsic.” A few days previous to this publication, I had made the speech of the day at the celebration of the second anniversary of the Industrial Educational Club, in which I argued against universal, equal, secret and direct suffrage, because the workingmen were not yet ripe for it. I offended even some of my friends of the club with this view of mine. On the other hand, my speech pleased my future wife immensely, who participated in the celebration with her brother. But I have goo dreasons for believing that it was more the person of the speaker that pleased her than the contents of his speech, which at that time was no doubt rather immaterial to her.
The open letter of Lassalle did not make at all such apt impression upon the world of labor as had been expected, in the first place, by Lassalle himself; in the second place, by the small circle of his followers. For my part, I distributed about two dozen copies in the Industrial Educational Club, in order to give the other side a chance. That the letter should have made so little impression upon the majority of the laborers in the movement of that time, may seem inexplicable today to some people. But it was quite natural. Not merely the economic, but also the political conditions were still very backward. Professional freedom, free migration, liberty to settle down, exemption from passports, liberty to wander, freedom of association and assembly, such were the demands that appealed more closely to the laborer of that time than productive associations subsidized by the state, of which he had no clear conception. The idea of association or of co-operation was justs prouting. Even universal suffrage did not seem an indispensable right to the majority. On the one hand, as I have emphasized several times, political intelligence was still low; on the other hand, the fight of the Prussian House of Representatives against Bismarck’s ministry appeared to the great majority as a brave deed, which deserved support and praise, but no censure or derogation. A man who was politically active, like myself, devoured the reports of the proceedings in parliament and regarded them as the outpour of political wisdom. The liberal press, which then ruled public opinion far more than it does to-day, also took care to preserve this belief. So it was the liberal press that now greeted Lassalle’s appearance with cries or, rage and sneers, in a way that had, perhaps, been unheard of until then. Personal insinuations and defamations poured down upon him, and that the chief conservative organs, for instance, the “Kreuzzeitung,” treated Lassalle objectively, because his attack on the liberals was very welcome to them, did not increase Lassalle’s credit or that of his followers in our eyes. And if we realize, finally, that even to-day, after more than forty-five years of intense labors of enlightenment, there are still millions of laborers who run after the different bourgeois parties, it is no wonder that the vast majority of the workers in the sixties of the nineteenth century were skeptical against the new movement. And at that time no success had been obtained in social legislation, such as was secured later by the Socialist movement. Pioneers are always scarce.
Liebknecht and Bernhard Becker were driven out of Prussia in 1865. Liebknecht had returned to Berlin in the Summer of 1862, after an exile of thirteen years. The amnesty of 1860 made this possible for him. He followed the call of the old revolutionist, August Brass, with whom he became acquainted, like Engels, in Switzerland, and who had founded a Greater German democratic newspaper, the “Norddeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung,” in the summer of 1862, in Berlin. Liebknecht had been won, together with Robert Schweichel; for the editorship, the former for foreign politics. But when Bismarck assumed the ministry at the end of September, 1862, both of them soon discovered that something was wrong. Their suspicions were confirmed, when one day an accident would have it that Schweichel received a letter for Brass from a messenger of the ministry, who said that the contents of the letter were to be published at once. Both of them gave notice and resigned from the editorship. As Liebknecht declared publicly, later on, Lassalle upbraided him, even one year after his resignation, for leaving left his position on the “Norddeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung.” Liebknecht, who then had a wife and two children, whom he had summoned from London to Berlin, meanwhile earned a living as a correspondent for various papers. When I became acquainted with him, he wrote, among others, for the “Oberrheinischen Kurier,” in Freiburg, Baden, for Rechbauer’s democratic “Tagespost,” in Graz, and for the “Deutsche Wochenblatt,” in Mannheim, from which last named, however, he could not have received very much. Later he wrote for several years for the “Frankfurter Zeitung.” He gave public lectures in Berlin, particularly in the printers’ and tailors’ unions, also in public labor meetings and other popular meetings, in which he combatted Bismarck’s policies. He regarded JB von Schweitzer, the editor of the “Social-democrat,” as the stool pigeon of those policies.
After his expulsion, he went first to Hanover, where Schweichel had found a position as editor of the “Anzeiger.” But, since nothing could be found for him there he came to Leipsic, where, one day in August, he was introduced to me by Dr. Eras, who was then the editor of the “Mitteldeutsche Volkszeitung.” Liebknecht, whose work and expulsion I was familiar with thru the newspapers, naturally interested me greatly. I was then forty years old, but possessed the fire and vivacity of a young man of twenty. Immediately after our introduction, we engaged in a political conversation, in which he attacked the Progressive Party and its leaders vehemently and ruthlessly, and gave them a bad character, so that I, who myself did not regard them any longer as saints, was quite dumbfounded. However, he was a first-class man, and his aggressive manners did not prevent us from becoming good friends.
Liebknecht was very welcome to us in Saxony. In July, at the state convention in Glauchau, we had decided to send agitators out on a tour. But it was easier to decide than to carry this out, for we lacked suitable personalities whose existence permitted such an activity. Liebknecht readily placed himself at our disposal for lecture tours. He was also welcome in the Workingmen’s Educational Club as a speaker, and soon his lectures were the best attended. He also undertook to teach English and French in this club. In this way he gradually worked up a modest living. Nevertheless, as I learned later, he was compelled to carry many a good book to the second hand dealer. His condition was still more deteriorated by the fact that his (first) wife was ailing with lung trouble, and needed stronger food. Liebknecht’s exterior did not show that he had any cares. Whoever saw him, and heard him, would have thought that he lived in contentment.
His first agitation tour led him into the Iron Mountains, especially into the workingmen’s villages of the Muelsen Ground, whereby he paved his way to his subsequent candidacy for the North German Reichstag. As I also undertook frequent agitation tours, and the two of us generally acted together in all political questions, our names were mentioned more and more in public, until we were regarded as two inseparables. This went so far that when a party comrade became my business associate in the second half of the seventies, sometimes business letters would arrive which were addressed to Liebknecht & Bebe1, instead of Issleib & Bebel. This always created merriment among us.
I shall have to mention Liebknecht more frequently in these pages, but I cannot give a description of his life here. Those who are interested in that, will find more details in the book on “The Leipsic Process for High Treason against Liebknecht, Bebel and Hepner,” and in the work of Kurt Eisner, on “Wilhelm Liebknecht.” Both works are published by the Vorwaerts Publishing House.
Liebknecht’s genuine fighter’s nature was keyed up by an impregnable optimism, without which no great aim can be accomplished. No blow that struck him, personally or the party, could rob him for a minute of his courage or of his composure. Nothing took him unawares; he always knew a way out. Against the attacks of his antagonists his watchword was: Meet one rascal by one and a half. He was harsh and ruthless against our opponents, but always a good comrade to his friends and associates, ever trying to smooth over existing difficulties.
In his private life, Liebknecht was a considerate husband and father, and was greatly attached to his family. He was also a great nature lover. A few beautiful trees, in an otherwise charmless landscape, could make him enthusiastic, and induce him to consider this place fine. In his wants, he was simple and unpretentious. An excellent soup, which my young wife placed before him shortly after our marriage, in the spring of 1866, pleased him so much that he never forgot it. A good glass of beer or a good glass of wine and a good cigar were agreeable to him, but he did not spend much for them. If he had donned some new garment, which did not happen very often, and if I had not noticed it immediately and appreciated it, I could be sure that before many minutes, he would call my attention to it, and ask my opinion of it. He was a man of iron, with the mind of a child. When Liebknecht died, on August 7, 1900, it was exactly thirty-five years since we had first met.
The woman of the future society is socially and economically independent, she is no longer subjected to even a vestige of domination or exploitation, she is free and on a par with man and mistress of her destiny. Her education is the same as that enjoyed by men, with the exception of some modifications demanded by differences of sex and sexual functions. Living in natural conditions, she is able to develop and exercise her physical and mental powers and faculties according to her requirements. She chooses her occupation in such a field as corresponds with her wishes, inclinations and talents, and enjoys working conditions identical to those of men. Even if she is engaged in some trade for some hours she may spend another part of the day working as an educator, teacher or nurse, and devote a third part of the day to some art, or the study of some branch of science, and set aside yet another part of the day to some administrative function. She joins in studies and work, enjoys diversions and entertainment with other women or with men as she pleases and as occasion allows.
In choosing the object of her love, woman, like man, is free and unhampered. She woos or is wooed, and enters into a union from no considerations other than her own inclinations. This bond is a private agreement, arrived at without the intermediacy of a functionary - just as marriage was a private agreement till far into the Middle Ages. Socialism is creating nothing new here, it only restores at a higher stage of civilisation and antler new social forms what had prevailed universally before private property began to dominate society.
Under the proviso that the satisfaction of his instincts inflicts no injury and disadvantage on others, the individual shall see to his own needs. The gratification of the sexual instinct is as much a private concern as the satisfaction of any other natural instinct. No one is accountable for it to others and no unsolicited judge has the right to interfere. What I shall eat, how I shall drink, sleep and dress, is my own affair, as is also my intercourse with a person of the opposite sex. Intelligence and culture, full independence of an individual - all qualities that will evolve naturally as a result of the education and the conditions pertaining in the future society - will guard everyone against committing acts that would be to his disadvantage. The men and women of the future society will possess a far higher degree of self-discipline and self-knowledge than those now living. The simple fact that all the stupid prudery and ridiculous affection of secrecy regarding the discussion of sexual matters will have vanished guarantees that intercourse between the sexes will be much more natural than it is today. If two persons who have entered into a union turn out to be incompatible, or are disappointed in or repulsed by each other, morality demands that this unnatural and therefore immoral bond be dissolved. Since the conditions that have up to now condemned a large number of women to either celibacy or the barter of their bodies will have vanished, men will no longer be able to maintain any superiority. On the other hand, the transformed social conditions will remove many of the inhibitions and inconveniences which affect married life today, often prevent it from unfolding, or even render it wholly impossible.
The situation is simply this: August Bebel, and still more so the others, have completely spent themselves on behalf of parliamentarism and in parliamentary struggles. Whenever anything happens which transcends the limits of parliamentarism, they are completely hopeless - no, even worse than that, they try their best to force everything back into the parliamentary mould, and they will furiously attack as an enemy of the people anyone who wants to go beyond these limits.
August Bebel! The name is in itself a portion of history; the name bears witness of the man. For, when we turn the leaves of the story of Bebel’s life, is not the history of the militant German proletariat .itself, and especially of the Social-Democracy, opened out to us?- a history whose waves, describing circles, have reached over also into the Labour movement of other countries. There is not an important chapter of this history, not a decided turning-point, not a milestone of irrevocable progress in the historic life of the German proletariat, which does not bear the firm and ineradicable mark of Bebel’s creating and directing hand. That has been the case for nearly half a century -from the time of its first confused and halting steps, when the German proletariat began to realise its historic existence and the task that was allotted to it; when it started, politically and economically, on its forward march as an independent class, till to-day, when it is advancing from all directions to storm the citadels of bourgeois society. As Bebel was one of the first to sound the call-to-arms, so, after decades of unresting labour and manifold experiences, he still was numbered among the most indefatigable of the advanced guard of the proletarian army.
We find him at the front among the stalwarts to whom the German Social-Democracy owes its firm organisation and who found themselves faced by an extremely difficult task. An organisation had to be created which took into consideration the historic formation of each of the Federated States, which had to deal, with varying political situations and tactics on the part of the authorities, and which would combine the necessary unity and cohesion with the equally necessary freedom of action. Other considerations, too, claimed attention. In view of the spreading and deepening activity of the Social-Democracy, it was necessary to provide for the possibility of incorporating new elements into the organism and to insure that it should be able at any time rapidly to develop its utmost impetus. And no one has done more than Bebel to fill the Party organisation with the fullest conception of proletarian life and to make it serviceable to the purposes of the working class.
A clear-sighted steersman, he guided the ship of Social-Democracy through storms and heavy seas, between the cliffs and reefs of the Anti-Socialist Law; guided it into the calms that precede great storms, and past the shallows of bourgeois Parliamentarism. With the unerring instinct of the born fighter, and the clear vision of the responsible leader, from conceptions and principles firmly anchored in science he drew the right conclusions regarding the often, apparently insoluble confusion of daily events. Thus, at all tunes he recognised how necessary is mobility of tactics in the political struggle, the variability and renewal of methods and weapons. At a time when the importance of the suffrage was still unrecognised by distinguished leaders of Germany’s young Labour movement, when it was denounced by whole brother-parties abroad as a means of cheating the masses, it was Bebel who, with strong arms, bore among the “obtuse,” “unripe,” “unorganised “ masses the banner raised by Lassalle, led by the sure insight that history is its own instructor, and that the masses themselves would learn by practice to decide in questions of mass action. And he was at the front likewise when it was a case of proclaiming – with cool consideration of the actual circumstances, leaving calmly on one side all judicial formulas – the same historic justification for the illegal as for the legal means of warfare. He remained equally free on the one hand from will-o’-the-wisp revolutionary romanticism, which loses the solid earth beneath its feet, and on the other from an easily-satisfied “statesmanism,” which slips on the smooth parquet floor of Parliamentarism. Therefore, he knew how to make use of Parliamentary action for all the everyday needs of the suffering and struggling proletariat, thus attracting the masses, while using it none the less for that inexorable criticism, based on principle, of the capitalist order, which welds the masses together and schools them for the struggle towards the Socialist goal. Finally, it was Bebel’s influence which weighed heavily in the scale when the German Social-Democracy adopted the mass strike as one of the weapons which may – indeed, must – be used in certain circumstances.
The development of Social-Democratic tactics rests in the last instance upon the theory which is applied to and verified by practical experience. Consequently, we find Bebel each time in the thick of the fight of opinions, whether regarding theoretical generalisations or the kernel of Socialist conception and principle. Since the Nurnberg Conference of the Workers’ Associations, where the bold avowal of the principles of the International Working Men’s Association was made, up to the Dresden Conference, which emphasised the principles of revolutionary Socialism, Bebel took the most active part possible in all phases of the theoretical ripening of Social-Democracy. They faithfully reflected his own step-by-step development; for Bebel has developed and grown with the Party and with the proletarian class struggle. But he did not face the problems raised by this struggle in the spirit of an academician, whose desk is stuffed full of finished solutions; he faced them as a man of action who would move the masses, who, working and fighting, wrestles hotly for new insight, at the same time having to understand that frequently “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” Thus he was able to march at the head of the masses without the cold reflection falling upon him that he was dogmatic or tried to play the pedagogue; thus he was able to be a pioneer without losing touch with them or isolating himself. We have only to think in this respect of his incomparable work for the liberation of women, especially in his book, “Women and Socialism,” from which streams of life poured forth; thus it was that his great firmness in principles and tactics did not appear as dry, rigid dogmatism, but seemed, on the contrary, to breathe forth the natural freshness of life itself.
Indeed, Bebel’s life and activity are more than a mere reflection of the contemporary history of the proletarian fight for freedom. They are the incarnation of proletarian class-life, the irrepressible expression of whose being forms that history. Therefore Bebel became more than a pillar of history; he helped to make it. Thus it was that he was able to be the agitator as well as the finest type of Parliamentarian, the fiery leader of mass-action throughout the country, and the clever, cool tactician in the Reichstag. So, too, it was that he always found the right relations between the indispensable, dull, every-day political work, and the elevating struggle towards the final goal of Socialism-the end in view which elevates workaday action, by never losing sight of that goal, and looking upon all action only in its relation thereto; and he had the courage to seek even the smallest alleviation of the proletariat’s present-day conditions with as much eagerness as though the great historic day of freedom were itself at stake; and to bear aloft this sublime goal of the masses as though it were to be reached immediately. Bebel was the personal incarnation of the highest historic existence of the contemporary working class; he was the living expression of the realisation, the will, the action of those nameless, numberless ones who fight the decisive battles of the proletarian struggle for emancipation. This oneness with the historic life of the masses was the last and deepest root of his power over them, and made him at the same time their most influential and their best-beloved leader; it was from this source that Bebel’s eloquence drew its burning force, and his conviction its inflexible firmness and its youthful fire. “The breath of humanity, which pants ceaselessly for freedom,” wafted from his being and his actions. It therefore necessarily followed that Bebel’s being and actions were animated to the full by the spirit of Socialism.
But the manner in which this historic necessity was carried out in person made manifest the inexhaustible treasury of valuable forces which slumber in the still untilled and uncultivated soil of the masses. These personal forces did their part in raising Bebel, personally and politically, to the highest standard of humanity. In the closest touch with the “herd” of nameless ones, he himself forged the fulness and weight of his life. That which aesthetic dwarfs, despisers of the masses, seek to acquire by the unnatural means of withdrawing themselves, as superior persons, from the common life-the originality of a strong, historic personality – came to him through life with and for the masses.
A man and a work stand before us in Bebel; a man who is quite embodied in his work, and a work which possesses the man. In earlier times, the historic conditions forced the masses to erect thrones for those who led them in the conquest of new lands. The proletarian masses of our day, whose function it is to overthrow the last tyrannies by which human beings are enslaved, give their leaders their gratitude and love. No one received a richer or warmer share of these than Bebel, In him the masses loved and honoured a great man who, without bargaining and haggling for personal happiness, consecrated himself, with burning enthusiasm and selfless devotion, entirely to their great cause – the Moses, who, on the march through the wilderness of capitalist order, ever refreshed anew the parched souls with the vision of the promised land of freedom – the bold assailant, who, with revolutionary defiance, shook the foundations of bourgeois society. With him one of the most prominent warriors of the first heroic age of the German Socialist proletariat has fallen just at the moment when the rapid, remorseless steps of development are forcing that proletariat to concentrate all its forces to overcome, during a second and more potent heroic age, the barbarism that is being unchained by capitalism. But this time the masses themselves will be the hero and the leader. To have given his strength till his last breath to unite and make ready the masses for this historic moment is alike Bebel’s happiness and his immortality.