Wednesday, 11 March 2015


However much we may be opposed to the doctrines of Herr Bebel, the veteran leader of the German Socialist party, who has just passed away, men of all political creeds can pay a tribute to the memory of a great figure in a world-wide movement He was the sole survivor of the brilliant group of men—Karl Marx, Ferdinand Lassalle, Liebknecht, and others—whose influence has been felt in every civilised country, if their schemes and chimeras are as distant from realisation now as they were half a century ago. Herr Bebel lived to see the Social Democratic party in Germany represented by over a hundred members in the Reichstag, and its candidates polling over four million votes at the last general elections. Yet he also witnessed towards the end of his life clear divergences within the Socialist movement from the Marxian platform, and he, too, experienced a changed outlook in his own person. The internationalism of Marx has been replaced by a nationalism in many respects as aggressive as that possessed by the more conservative elements in the community. Modern observers of Bebel would not recognise in him the opponent of the war with France in 1870, and of the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine, or the man whom Bismarck accused of high treason forty years ago. The Social Democrats of Germany have, it is true, set their face against the excessive growth in the expenditure on armaments. But the party which a few years ago inscribed on its banner "Not a man! Not a penny!" and bitterly opposed the Caprivi Army Bills of 1801, as well as subsequent naval and military measures, sought at the recent elections to impress upon the electors its patriotic spirit.

Bebel had fought successfully against the revolutionary, extra-Parliamentary, and syndicalist elements in the party, and his adherence to the constitutional character of the movement undoubtedly saved it from disaster. But in recent years the Social Democratic party in Germany, of which Herr Bebel was the leader, was something more than a Socialist faction in the Marxian, or even in the "revisionist" or "modernist" sense of the term. Indeed, a considerable number of the planks in its platform, (e.g.) franchise, an eight-hours' day, and similar matters, are accepted by all parties in Australia. There rallied round the party all those elements in the population which sought freedom from the tyranny of the bureaucrats, and from the economic and political thraldom of the aristocratic agrarians. The Social Democratic party was the only party which had not been allied with the Government. Men and women of all classes, who desired freedom of trade and of political institutions, found in the party the possibility of opposing the existing order of things. There can be no doubt that this has been a source of strength as well as of weakness to the Socialist movement, properly so-called. It has brought to the Socialist party the co-operation for immediate purposes of a large number of able men who desired radical reforms, but were not prepared to travel the whole of the journey along the Socialist road. But it has also influenced the movement in the more moderate direction desired by men like Vollmar and Bernstein. The progressive movement in Germany will inevitably grow in the coming period, and it will be interesting to see whether the departure from the scene of its leader for more than a generation will affect its development.


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