History of German Social-Democratic party

History of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), 1860's - 1914

Tentative division of the history of the SPD

One may say that the history of SPD consists of 3 parts:

1) The origin of the party is marked by a struggle between the Lassaleans and the "Eisenachs",

2) the struggle within the party against revisionism, ending in the fiasco of the revolutionary wing on 4th August 1914,

3) the period of the German revolution, 1918-19

After this period, the German Social Democracy is no longer a revolutionary force.

Struggle between the Lassaleans and the Eisenachs

The SPD originated in the union of two factions: the Lassalleans and the Eisenachs. Who were the two factions?

Ferdinand Lassalle (1825-1864) was a son of a wealthy Jewish trader. He participated in the revolution of 1848-49, for which he got a year in prison and was banned from living in Berlin. However, in 1855 Lassalle applied to the police commissioner and to a Prussian prince, begging for the ban to be lifted. According to Marx, this was a compromise with the powers that be.

In the beginning of 1860's, Lassalle makes speeches in the workers' clubs. In 1863, he founded the General German Workers' Association (ADAV, Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein). The principles of the organization were: 1) struggle for a general right to vote by peaceful, legal means; 2) state subsidies for workers' productive cooperatives.

Marx, in a letter dating from 13 October, 1868, to Schweitzer, a chairman of ADAV at the time, characterized Lassalle in the following way: "As for the union of Lassalle, it appeared in the period of reaction. After a 15 year slumber, Lassalle has awaken in Germany the workers' movement, and that is his immortal service. But he has committed big mistakes... A trifle starting point - his opposition to Schulze-Delitze - he has made the central point of his agitation, - the state subsidy as opposed to self-help... Thus he was forced to make compromises with the Prussian monarchy and Prussian reaction (feudal parties) and even clerics".

Lassalle was known for his compromising with Bismarck (second photo below). For example, when a Zolingen mayor, a member of a bourgeois Progressive party, shut down a workers' meeting with Lassalle, the later sent a telegram to Bismarck in which he asked protection of the Junker minister against the bourgeois mayor.

According to Mehring, in 1864 there were private negotiations between Lassalle and Bismarck regarding the electoral right and state credit for workers' productive associations. All writings of Lassalle were sent by the author to Bismarck. The Junker minister said, in 1878 (i.e. 14 years after Lassalle's death): "Our (with Lassalle) relations could not assume the character of political negotiations. What could Lassalle offer and give to me? He didn't have anything to back him up".

At this time in Prussia there was a struggle between the Junkers (the landlords) and the bourgeoisie. The Junkers used the organization of Lassalle in support of their program. For example, Lassalle wanted the Hamburg workers to pass a resolution inviting Bismarck to join Schleswig-Holstein (a state in northern Germany) to Prussia. This was against the will of Austria, and a union of Prussia with Austria was the political plan of bourgeois parties. Meanwhile, a union of Prussia with other smaller German states, without Austria, was the political plan of the Prussian Junkers.

On 15 December 1864, there was a trial issue of "Social Democrat", a newspaper of ADAV. Marx and Engels were among the collaborators. In the newspaper, Schweizer spoke favorably of Bismarck and the Kaiser. Marx and Engels left the editorial board. In a statement on 23 February, 1865 they demanded that the same language be used in reference to the feudal-absolutist party as towards the Progressive party. W. Leibknekht (third photo below) also left the editorial board because Schweizer was too soft on official Prussia.

After the death of Lassalle, his followers were known for their compromises with members of the Bismarck government. A friend of Lassalle, Bucher, became an official of Bismarck government and was known for writing memos to Bismarck. Marx and Engels were suspicious of Schweizer. In 1873 his right-hand man, Carl Wilhelm Tölcke, said at a meeting of leaders of ADAV: "Some time before he went to prison, Schweizer told me that in case anything happens, I can always go to Berlin police presidium. Schweizer went there with me and introduced me; especially important is that he manifested a good knowledge of situation of the rooms". Also Tolcke said that Schweizer used for his own private purposes the dues paid by the members of the association. After the meeting, Schweizer was expelled from ADAV by a vote of 5595 vs. 1177.

Conclusion: compromises with the powers that be are the death knell of a revolutionary party. Observe how many international and national movements fall into this trap today. One just has to inquire about the sources of money of various "Social Forums", "Anti-capitalist marches", "Organizations of Marxists", etc.

* * *

As opposed to Lassalleans, another party of the working class of Germany emerged. Its origin (like ADAV) dates to 1863, when a Federation of German Workers' Clubs was founded in Frankfurt. The Federation originated from as a left wing of a bourgeois party. Bebel and Rosmessler were the leaders of this movement. Liebknekht, who was originally in ADAV, in 1865 joined the Federation. In 1866 there was a meeting of representatives of Saxon Workers' Clubs and ADAV. As a result of the meeting, a Saxon People's Party is formed, a political wing of the Federation of German Workers' Clubs. At the head of the party were A. Bebel and W. Liebknecht. The party adopted a "Hemnitz program" (1866). The program:

1) Gives a review of the political situation at the moment: end of war between Prussia and Austria;

2) Discusses "the German question", i.e. the problem of unification of Germany;

3) demands various democratic rights.

We should note that a political program is similar to a medical diagnosis; it should offer an evaluation of the subject upon which the party intents to act. Hence, if a party strives for a global revolution, its program should offer a global analysis.

Between the Saxon People's Party and the ADAV there were significant differences. The ADAV believes that a compromise is possible when workers support the bourgeois candidate in one district, provided the bourgeois parties support the workers' candidates in another. For Liebknecht, the main point of parliamentary elections was enlightenment of the workers. Schweizer accepted the North German Confederation, advocated by Bismarck, while Liebknecht opposed it. Schweizer was for union with other classes of the nation against "the intrigues of Bonaparte"; Liebknecht thinks that Bismarck deserved the difficulties which France and Austria mounted against Prussia. Liebknekht declared Schweizer an agent of Bismarck, while Schweizer declared Liebknekht in secret agreement with the bourgeoisie, etc.

Schweizer did have grounds for accusations against Liebknekht. "To the question 'what position Social-Democratic Workers' Party takes towards the resolutions of Basel Congress of the First International regarding turning land into collective property', the SDWP paper replied: 'None. Each member of the party can and should take a certain stand, but the party, as such, doesn't have to do it'... This gave Schwizer grounds to say that the Eisenachs do not have the courage to admit themselves supporters of one of the main principles of scientific communism, i.e. socialization of the means of production, as the German People's Party (of which the Saxon People's Party formed a branch) demanded a straightforward renunciation of the Basel manifesto". F. Mehring also mentions that the Federation of German Workers' Clubs was subsidized by a bourgeois "Nationalist Union". Supporting the Basel manifesto meant losing this subsidy.

Despite the differences, there were attempts to unite the two parties. On 17 July 1869 a workers' newspaper announced a general social-democratic workers' congress for 7-9 August, 1869 in Eisench. At the meeting, there were 110 delegates from ADAV, representing 102 thousand members, and 262 delegates from the Federation, representing 140 thousand workers. After an initial meeting, it became clear that mutual work is impossible, and hence each of the two factions started its own meeting. The delegates of the Federation constituted a "Social-Democratic Workers' Party", according to a plan prepared by Bebel. Hence, this party obtained the name of "Eisenachs".

In 1874 Tolcke, the right hand man of Schweizer, speaks to the leadership of SDWP about unification of the two organizations. This union was insisted on by Schweizer: "a union at all costs - with the leaders, if they will want it, without them, if they will remain passive, and against them, if they will oppose". ADAV poses no special conditions for unification, and that surprises the leaders of SDWP. We suppose that Bismarck, who was probably behind the ADAV, wanted the union in order to control both organizations.

In 1875 there is a unification congress at Gotha. Marx, in a letter to the leadership of SDWP, criticizes the tentative program of the new party. He attacks imprecise, bungled wording of the program, its being geared towards “popular” understanding. Marx is arguing against clichés of Lassalle which the new unified party was going to adopt, such as the Lassallean catchword of the “undiminished proceeds of labor”. Moreover, he criticized the program for its lack of international direction. For the sake of a merger, the leaders of SDWP gave up on their Marxist principles and adopted the a rehash of the Lassallean mumbo jumbo.

Engels, in a letter to A. Bebel, 1875, restates the objections which he, together with Marx, have against the program:

"To begin with, they adopt the high-sounding but historically false Lassallean dictum: in relation to the working class all other classes are only one reactionary mass
Secondly, the principle that the workers’ movement is an international one is, to all intents and purposes, utterly denied in respect of the present, and this by men who, for the space of five years and under the most difficult conditions, upheld that principle in the most laudable manner
Thirdly, our people have allowed themselves to be saddled with the Lassallean “iron law of wages” which is based on a completely outmoded economic view, namely that on average the workers receive only the minimum wage because, according to the Malthusian theory of population, there are always too many workers (such was Lassalle’s reasoning).
Fourthly, as its one and only social demand, the programme puts forward - Lassallean state aid in its starkest form, as stolen by Lassalle from Buchez
Fifthly, there is absolutely no mention of the realization of the working class as a class through the medium of trade unions (because Lassalle was opposed to trade unions, and rather organized his people as a sect).
The free people’s state is transformed into the free state. Grammatically speaking, a free state is one in which the state is free I its citizens, a state, that is, with a despotic government
"The elimination of all social and political inequality”, rather than “the abolition of all class distinctions”, is similarly a most dubious expression. As between one country, one province and even one place and another, living conditions will always evince a certain inequality which may be reduced to a minimum but never wholly eliminated
“less importance attaches to the official programme of a party than to what it does. But a new programme is after all a banner planted in public, and the outside world judges the party by it”.

Let's note that a union of revolutionary and reformist parties as a rule ends up in the defeat of the revolutionary wing. Take the example of France. In 1905 we saw a unification of a revolutionary and a reformist wings of the French Socialist Party. Fridland and Slutsky write: "Although the unification of the socialist party was a result of the purges of the reformist group (Mil'eran, Brian and Viviani), and the unification platform manifested the victory of Gedist's principles of a class war, soon it was found that the party did not reject reformism in action... Here, as in Germany, rejection of revolutionary principles was all the more pronounced the stronger grew the party, the more election successes it achieved". We can suppose that if in Russia the Bolsheviks united with the Mensheviks in a single Social-Democratic Party, the Mensheviks would be victorious.

Revisionism in the SPD

On May 11, 1878 an apprentice named Godel took a couple of shots at the German emperor. F. Mehring, an official historian of the party, represents Godel an "idiot". The social-democratic press adopted a mocking tone towards the terrorist and loyal tone to the Prussian government.

Then there was a second attempt at the emperor committed by a socialist named Nobiling. There was a general sympathy among the population towards the terrorists. For example, "one woman in Brandenbourg got 1 year 6 months of jail for saying, upon getting the first news of the attempt of Nobiling: 'The Emperor, at least, is not poor, he can get a medical care'."

On 19 October 1878, as a consequence of assassination attempts, the Reichstag passes a law outlawing socialists. The Social Democratic party does not go underground but simply dissolves itself.

At this time, two illegal publications appear, "Lantern" in Brussels (started to publish in 12/1878), and "Freedom" in London (first issue on 1/1879). These two publications were rejected by party leadership for two reasons: 1) they were too radical; 2) the party was afraid of further persecutions.

However, "Freedom" was gaining influence upon the more revolutionary layers of the party. To counteract that influence, the party organizes in September of 1879, in Switzerland, a publication of its own newspaper, "Social Democrat". Its stated goal was "enlightenment and organization of the masses and struggle against 'making' of revolution". Moreover, the editors said that even though they are outside the power of the German and Austrian law, they intend to avoid any provocations, i.e. even a hint at violence.

In 1880's Germany enters upon the imperialist race and begins to exploit the colonies. The numbers of middle class and well-to-do Germans increase, as a table in Eduard Bernstein's book shows.

A similar situation existed in Britain. Bernstein writes: “In the 'British Review' of May 22nd, 1897, there are some figures on the growth of incomes in England from 1851 to 1881. According to those England contained in round numbers, in 1851, 300,000 families with incomes from £150 to £500 (the middle and lower bourgeoisie and the highest aristocracy of labour) and 990,000 in 1881. Whilst the population in these thirty years increased in the ratio of 27 to 35, that is about 30 per cent., the number of families in receipt of these incomes increased in the ratio of 27 to 90, that is 233 per cent."

Hence, Bernstein argues that "If the collapse of modern society depends on the disappearance of the middle ranks between the apex and the base of the social pyramid", as Marx argued, this collapse, in countries like England, France and Germany, is not likely very soon. And he was correct, for XIX and XX century.

Disappearance of the middle classes in XXI century

In the second half of the XX century, and in the early XXI century, we do see disappearance of the middle classes, in the leading imperialist countries. This is because capitalist production leaves imperialist centers and goes to places where labor is cheap and profits are high, such as China. The export of capital, which Lenin observed in the beginning of the XX century, when he was writing on imperialism, in 100 years' time has turned into export of the entire production complex, leaving for the metropolis the doubtful right to sell the produced commodities.

"The New York Times" writes on December 29, 2003: "A couple of million factory positions have disappeared in the short time since we raised our glasses to toast the incoming century. And now the white-collar jobs are following the blue-collar jobs overseas. Americans are working harder and have become ever more productive — astonishingly productive — but are not sharing in the benefits of their increased effort. If you think in terms of wages, benefits and the creation of good jobs, the employment landscape is grim. The economy is going great guns, we're told, but nearly nine million Americans are officially unemployed, and the real tally of the jobless is much higher. Even as the Bush administration and the media celebrate the blossoming of statistics that supposedly show how well we're doing, the lines at food banks and soup kitchens are lengthening. They're swollen in many cases by the children of men and women who are working but not making enough to house and feed their families. I.B.M. has crafted plans to send thousands of upscale jobs from the U.S. to lower-paid workers in China, India and elsewhere. Anyone who doesn't believe this is the wave of the future should listen to comments made last spring by an I.B.M. executive named Harry Newman: 'I think probably the biggest impact to employee relations and to the H.R. field is this concept of globalization. It is rapidly accelerating, and it means shifting a lot of jobs, opening a lot of locations in places we had never dreamt of before, going where there's low-cost labor, low-cost competition, shifting jobs offshore.'"

And the paper concludes: "Globalization may be a fact of life. But that does not mean that its destructive impact on American families can't be mitigated. The best thing workers can do, including white-collar and professional workers, is to organize. At the same time, the exportation of jobs and the effect that is having on the standard of living here should be relentlessly monitored by the government, the civic sector and the media. The public has a right to know what's really going on." This is the kind of "refomirst" mumbo-jumbo the paper feeds us. No wander it is becoming less and less interesting. One may call it "obsolete".

The phenomenon of "globalization" is not limited to the U.S. but the biggest protests take place in Europe. In June 2007 we have witnessed "anti-globalization" rally in Rostock, Germany, with cars overturned and people hurt.

Reformism in the SPD

Eduard Bernstein draws a nice picture of the SPD before World War I: "And in what sense has the party expressed itself since Stuttgart? Bebel, in his speeches on the attempts at assassination, has entered the most vigorous protests against the idea that social democracy upholds a policy of force, and all the party organs have reported these speeches with applause; no protest against them has been raised anywhere. Kautsky develops in his 'Agrarian Question' the principles of the agrarian policy of social democracy. They form a system of thoroughly democratic reform just as the Communal Programme adopted in Brandenburg is a democratic programme of reform. In the Reichstag the party supports the extension of the powers and the compulsory establishment of courts of arbitration for trades disputes. These are organs for the furtherance of industrial peace. All the speeches of their representatives breathe reform. In the same Stuttgart where, according to Clara Zetkin, the “Bernstein-iade” received the finishing stroke, shortly after the Congress, the social democrats formed an alliance with the middle-class democracy for the municipal elections, and their example was followed in other Württemberg towns. In the trade union movement one union after another proceeds to establish funds for out-of-work members, which practically means a giving up of the characteristics of a purely fighting coalition, and declares for municipal labour bureaux embracing equally employers and employees; whilst in various large towns - Hamburg, Elberfeld - co-operative stores have been started by socialists and trade unionists".

Regarding the use of violence, Kautsky has given a "magnificent" picture of a revolution without violence, and even a civil war without violence. In "The Social Revolution", 1902, Kautsky writes: “one does not necessarily join to these last words (i.e. the civil war) the idea of actual slaughter and battles”. Kautsky is for methods of enlightenment of workers and democratic reform, against any dictatorship. These are principal reasons for his not accepting the October 1917 revolution in Russia. He writes that Bolshevism “relies upon victory in civil war rather than upon intellectual and economic elevation of the masses”.

P.S. In 1959 in its Godesberg program the SPD officially abandoned the principles of Marxism. Instead, it adopted the policies of "social welfare", i.e. making sure that the unemployed do not run out of their ghettos and burn the cars of the bourgeoisie. Examples of such riots we have seen in France in October - November 2005, and this has spread to Germany.

The sources of information on history of SPD

The general rule in gathering information is to use accounts of the people who actually participated in the events described. The higher was the position of the person in the field of action, the more general account of the problem one is likely to obtain. Thus, accounts of the political and military leaders are always of prime importance in the field of human affairs. The same principle is true for natural sciences. Instead of reading school or college textbooks, a student is much better to read accounts of the people who actually made the discoveries in question. In physics, that means reading Newton and Einstein, in mathematics - Godel, etc.

It should be noted that both Karl Marx and F. Engels criticized the German Social Democracy. Of principal interest here is "The Critique of the Gotha program", 1875, and a letter by Engels to Bebel in 1875.

One source on the history of the SPD is Franz Mehring's “History of the German Social Democracy”. Franz Mehring was one of the leaders of the left wing of the SPD during the World War. However, his books deals mainly with the early years of the SPD. One may call this a "pre-history".

To understand "revisionism" in the SPD, it is necessary to read the main revisionist of Marx - Eduard Bernstein. The principal book of the author on this topic is translated in English as "Evolutionary Socialism", 1899 (available at www.marxists.org).

Close to Bernstein is Karl Kautsky. To understand this "socialist" theoretician, I recommend reading a collection of articles collected in English under the title "Social Democracy vs. Communism".

To hear a criticism of Kautsky, I recommend a book of Lenin's "Proletarian revolution and renegede Karl Kautsky", 1918.

August Bebel is a boring writer. I tried reading his "Reminiscences" several times, but failed to finish. Much more interesting is Leon Trotsky's "My life". Chapter XVI is called "The second immigration and the German socialism".

Finally, Rosa Luxembourg, just like Bebel, is boring. The principal book of hers for understanding the German Social Democracy is "The Junius pamphlet", 1915.

External link

* history of German social-democracy with photos, by Fractal-Vortex
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