🏛 Stoas near [[20210130191025 not_one_man_not_one_penny_german_social_democracy_1863_1914]]
📖 HedgeDoc at https://doc.anagora.org/20210130191025-not_one_man_not_one_penny_german_social_democracy_1863_1914
📖 Etherpad at https://stoa.anagora.org/p/20210130191025-not_one_man_not_one_penny_german_social_democracy_1863_1914
📹 Jitsi at https://meet.jit.si/20210130191025-not_one_man_not_one_penny_german_social_democracy_1863_1914
📚 Node [[20210130191025 not_one_man_not_one_penny_german_social_democracy_1863_1914]]

"Not One Man! Not One Penny!" German Social Democracy, 1863-1914

source : not_one_man_not_one_penny

tags : [[Germany]] [[German Social Democratic Party]] [[Karl Kautsky]] [[history of socialism]]


  • The SPD (Sozialdemkratische Partei Deutschlands) was the first working-class party in the history of the world
  • The SPD was the first large party to try and work out the writings of [[Marx]] and [[Engels]]
  • SPD was the model for world socialist movement
  • Steenson asserts that German [[social democracy]] was just one interpretation of Marx, like the [[Soviet Union]] was
  • German social democracy also cannot simply be called [[Marxism]]
  • Socialists were often barred from other forms of association, which partially explains why the SPD was so all-encompassing

1. German Social Democracy to 1890

  • German social democracy has its origins in the [[Revolutions of 1848]]
    1. There was a feeing that the cause for workers had been betrayed
    2. The revolutionaries had failed to come up with a [[unified German state]]
  • Workers felt that an alliance with the bourgeois liberals could not get them what they wanted
  • After 1848 workplaces began educating workers via educational associations, and overall workers became more educated
  • Steenson says there were three remarkable things about these associations:
    1. There was a major expansion of them after the revolution
    2. They were politicized, especially those associated with radicals
      1. See: [[Stephan Born]]
    3. In August of 1848 the General German Workers’ Brotherhood (Allgemeine deutsche Aerbeiterverbrüderung) was formed. It had its own newspaper, called Verbrüderung
      1. Thought to have ~18,000 members in 1850
  • These organizations were very political, unlike the prior existing order which was traditionally apolitical
  • After the revolution they were met with a wave of reaction, and worker’s associations that extended beyond their own localities became illegal in some areas

The Workers and the Liberals

  • Until the 1860s there were times where workers would make alliances with liberals generally
  • The liberals were in conflict with the Prussian aristocracy, and were divided among themselves, and some factions recognized the need to work with labor
  • Prussia did not have a large industrial proletariat at this time
  • The workers, generally [[class conscious]], realized that the bourgeoisie were their enemy broadly
  • The 1860s saw the formation of the first working class political party in German history: the Allgemeiner deutscher Arbeiterverein (ADAV) ([[General German Workers’ Association]])

Lassalle and the ADAV

  • One of the founders of the ADAV was [[Ferdinand Lassalle]]
  • He left two legacies to German social democracy:
    1. Insistence on general adult male sufferage
      1. A deviation from the liberal principle of franchise based on property
    2. State financial support for workers’ coopratives
      1. In practice it took the form of protection of workers generally
  • The workers movement sought out Lassalle, he did not create the organization himself
  • [[Lassalle]] believed that male sufferage would promote civil war, and was hostile to parliamentarianism
  • [[Lassalle]] saw himself in the tradition of the [[Jacobins]]
  • [[Lassalle]] hoped that he could help establish a Germany that was not unlike the France of [[Napoleon III]]; a parliamentary government with a monarch who would protect worker interests
    • He met with [[Bismarck]] to discuss such things
    • [[Bismarck]] hoped to use the workers’ movement to crush his liberal opponents
  • The early workers movement espoused liberal ideals
  • [[Lassalle]] paved the way [[Marxism]] to enter German political thought, even if he appeared to be an opponent of sorts to [[Marx]]

The Verbund deutscher Arbeitervereine

  • Union of German Workers’ Leagues
  • Differed from ADAV:
    1. Retained close ties to bourgeois radicals
    2. Concerns were less political than ADAV
    3. More democratic than ADAV
  • Fell apart by 1870
  • [[August Bebel]] was elected president of the Verbund at the fourth congress in 1867 (?)
  • Bebel and [[Wilhelm Liebknecht]] worked to connect the Verbund to the [[First International]]
  • In 1869 the Verbund voted to dissolve and merge into the Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei
  • Verbund promoted [[trade unions]] when ADAV tried to avoid them

August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht

Formation of the Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei (SDAP)

  • ADAV became more autocratic over time, increasing dissatisfaction among members
  • ADAV cooperated with [[Prussia]] openly
  • With the disillusion of the Verbund and a split likely to happen in the ADAV, Bebel, Liebknecht, and others managed to unite the two factions under the SDAP
  • The founders of the SDAP worked to prevent the rise of a personality cult, a singular autocratic leader as had happened in the ADAV
    • it did so by having the entire executive elected by local party organizations
  • During the formation the SDAP resolved itself to not be like the ADAV
  • Bebel had the following points regarding party formation:
    1. Local organizations and the general organization had to be equally important
    2. The organization had to have monthly dues
    3. Dues should be waived for subscribers of the party paper
  • The SDAP avoided using the term “republic” anywhere in its name or program for fear of being politically repressed
  • [[Critique of the Gotha Programme]] was published posthumously by [[Karl Kautsky]] in 1891 (at the behest of [[Engels]]) to fight Lassalleanism within the party, which was at least as popular as Marxism was in the party from the start

The [[Franco-Prussian War]] and German Unification

  • In 1870 [[Napoleon III]] declared war on [[Prussia]]
  • The ADAV considered Napoleon the chief enemy of socialism on the continent
  • The SDAP was ambivalent as a party, but Bebel and Liebknecht opposed the war vocally
  • The workers movement overall was opposed to the war
  • A red scare of sorts led to Bebel and Liebknecht sentenced to prison for two years
  • The founding of Germany led to an economic boom, and subsequently did wonders for the German workers movement
  • In the early days of the [[German Empire]], the [[German Reichstag]] was an impotent political body
    • Germany implemented universal male sufferage, but it hardly mattered because of how weak the Reichstag was

Socialist Unification

  • German unification made it easier for the various workers’ parties to unify
  • Once Germany unified [[Bismarck]] considered the socialists enemies of the state
  • After unification the SDAP was significantly better organized than the ADAV
  • In 1874 in Gotha, the ADAV and the SDAP unified into the SADP (Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands), adopting a primarily Lassallean program:
  • [[Marx]] and [[Engels]] criticized the new program in [[Critique of the Gotha Programme]] and elsewhere, though saw the unification as ultimately a victory
  • The SADP operated with a strong central executive committee that controlled local organizations
    • the organizations rules made it difficult for one person to have too much influence

The Outlaw Period

  • In 1876 the Prussian government dissolved the SADP
    • this did not stop the party from growing however
  • Two assassination attempts on [[Kaiser Wilhelm I]] were the justification for Bismarck to dissolve the Reichstag and outlaw the socialist parties
  • In 1878 the Reichstag passed anti-socialist legislation that outlawed socialist parties until 1890
  • While outlawed, the SADP became the most popular political party in the Reich
  • The anti-socialist law was moderate compared to 20th century standards, but harsh by the standards of the time
  • The law repressed socialists in the following ways:
    • Meetings suspected of being communist / socialist in nature could be broken up and property could be confiscated
    • Participants were fined
    • Leaders were jailed for several years
  • What was considered socialist was often left up to local authorities, and local authorities came down on any organization that even seemed socialist
  • In spite of all this the SADP was still incredibly popular, and socialists were not barred from being elected to the Reichstag
  • In these years there were factions that centered around Reichstag politics and being more radical
  • The radicals won out for the following reasons:
    1. Bebel was a radical
    2. The moderates were not as skilled as the radicals
    3. Many of those who could have led the moderates emigrated or died
    4. Marxism gained a lot of ground in the party and was advanced as the ideology of German social democracy in this time
      • In the 1880s [[Karl Kautsky]] and [[Eduard Bernstein]] emerged as the party’s leading theoreticians. Bebel too became a Marxist in this time
      • Marxism gave the radical factions a clear ideological vision, as opposed to the moderates who lacked a specific vision
    5. The anti-socialist law itself made heroes out of the socialists. The law was seen as extremely repressive and this made the socialists look sympathetic
  • Many large cities in Germany had local clandestine socialist organizations
  • This outlaw period inspired a sense of heroism among the German socialists

2. The Party and the Reich

The Reichstag Electoral System and the SPD

  • Some characteristics of the [[German Reichstag]]:
    • In 1871 elections were held every 3 years, and after 1893 every 5 years
    • Election required an absolute majority, otherwise a runoff election was held between the two highest vote getters
    • The Reichstag had several major political factions:
      • Socialists
      • Conservatives
      • National Liberals
      • Center
      • Various left-liberal alignments
      • Various smaller parties
  • The SPD’s constituency was the industrial working class
  • The SPD was the only truly national party in Germany. All others were regional
  • All local organizations were capable of running candidates
    • The SPD was not interested in creating “winning machines” so much as they were propagandists
  • The SPD was largely ambivalent about winning elections. It wasn’t their primary focus but they tried anyway

The SPD and Reichstag Elections

  • The SADP’s ability to survive the outlaw period was remarkable in itself
  • Bismarck found other political opponents besides the socialists as time went on, allowing the socialists to gain more ground electorally
  • 1890 was a turning point: now that the socialists could operate openly they won almost 20% of the vote
  • The most serious election for the SPD was the election of 1907, called the [[Hottentot election]], which resulted in the biggest loss for the SPD since the 1890s
  • The biggest electoral gain for the SPD was the election of 1912, where the SPD won more than four million votes
    • [[Rosa Luxemburg]] was critical of this victory, as she felt that the focus on electoral politics distracted from real socialist work and required the SPD to compromise its message
  • After 1912 the SPD entered into an agreement with the Progressive party to trade support in a runoff election, something they had never done before, and actively opposed
  • Success in electoral politics seems to have bred contentment with the status quo
  • The disaster that was 1907 is in part why the party was willing to make a compromise in 1912
  • “The party sacrificed principle without gaining much advantage”
  • The compromise would deal a death-blow to the radicalism of the party

Socialists in the Reichstag

  • The outlaw period had fostered a sense of camaraderie among the SPD members elected to the Reichstag, and thus they always voted together
  • One of the strengths of this period was the fact that the German SPD was so strongly united
  • Since the beginning however there had been internal disagreements between moderates and radicals in the party
  • Prior to the outlaw period German social democrats largely saw the Reichstag as a way of platforming issues and speechmaking, rather than a means of accomplishing anything
    • Liebknecht believed that the Reichstag was a “fig leaf for despotism”
  • Eventually however the socialists felt that they could make better use of their seats in the Reichstag by proposing legislation
  • [[Bismarck]] dealt with social democracy in two ways:
    1. Active repression
    2. “Bribing” the lower classes with social safety nets, hoping to win favor with the workers and take that favor away from the socialists
  • The socialists were caught off guard by the second tactic of Bismarck’s, and between 1881 and 1884 weren’t sure how to handle it
    • Would they support legislation that made the lives of workers better, thereby admitting that the state was not the enemy of the workers?
  • In the end they decided to vote against Bismarck’s social insurance on the grounds that they were being repressed anyway
    • Voting against them made them more popular, as it showed the workers that the S(A)PD was on the side of the workers
      • This would not happen today
  • As time went on moderate socialists did not see the state as the enemy, and that the state could be used for reform
  • Eventually the SPD began proposing their own legislation
  • The German socialists in the Reichstag were always reformist, as they never introduced legislation that in any way altered the property relations of Germany
  • Few socialists saw these things as ends in themselves
  • For the entire period that this book covers, all social democrats felt that by proposing reforms they could at least make achieving their own goals easier
  • The socialists in the Reichstag were always looking to reform the rules around the Reichstag in particular. Parliamentary immunity was often sought after because the socialists in the Reichstag were frequently imprisoned
  • Socialists were not equal before the law in Imperial Germany
  • The goals of the social democrats in parliament included:
    • Broader rights for women
    • Legitimacy of children born out of wedlock
    • Limit police and court powers of search and seizure
    • Open trials and jury proceedings
    • Depoliticization of civilian courts
    • Reducing the role of religion in schools and in courts
    • Tried to get the law to apply to everyone in Germany equally, as Alsace-Lorraine for example was governed by special status
    • Tried to lower franchise age
    • Tried to reform Reichstag seat distribution
    • Elimination of indirect taxes
    • Chancellor to be responsible to the will of the people
    • Progressive income tax
  • None of these things were ends in themselves but would help the social democrats in their more radical goals
  • None of their proposed reforms were ever enacted into law
  • Also tried to introduce labor law, such as an 8 hour work day
  • None of the proposals made by the SPD posed a serious challenge to German capitalism
  • The more Marxist members of the SPD were uncertain of how a socialist society could emerge from a capitalist one simply by proposing legislation
  • As time went on the SPD began to see the state as a weapon that could be used by the socialists instead of their opponents
  • [[Paul Singer]] was the person who organized the SPD delegation to the Reichstag during the Wilhelm years
    • Singer was a business owner who gradually became a socialist
    • He used his business to help fund the SPD’s political activities

The SPD and Foreign Policy

  • In an early Reichstag speech, Liebknecht said that the best foreign policy was no foreign policy at all
  • For a long time the SPD supplied no commentary on foreign policy, although they did betray some biases:
    1. Most socialists were nominally pacifists, though in practice this was not the case
    2. They hated and feared Imperial Russia
    3. Most socialists opposed a standing army and preferred a defense militia
    4. Opposition to colonialism and [[imperialism]]
      • In the late 1880s Bismarck introduced a bill that involved funding of steamboats. The social democrats were split on whether or not they’d support the legislation, and ultimately chose to attach an unreasonable amount of amendments to the bill
      • During this period the social democrats developed a contradictory critique of colonialism:
        • To them colonialism was a holdover of feudalism rather than something that was capitalistic
        • They also saw colonialism as “exporting the social question” i.e. a capitalist effort to cope with overproduction and overpopulation in the metropole
          • Unlike English colonialism, German colonialism was largely a drain on the German economy
        • Colonialism was also rejected by socialists on humanistic grounds
      • German social democracy offered no worthwhile critique of colonialism overall, save for a few theoreticians like [[Karl Kautsky]]
      • The SPD had a hard time deciding if imperialism was progressive as well
      • [[Rosa Luxemburg]] critiqued the SPD policy on imperialism
      • A. Fendrich (?) anticipated [[Vladimir Lenin]]’s critique of imperialism
  • The socialists felt that they did not need to develop a “world policy,” as there would be plenty of time for that once they seized state power
  • The socialists were known for their anti-militarism, and were often seen as unpatriotic
  • [[Karl Liebknecht]] saw militarism as a weapon against the proletariat
  • The German fear of Russia was similar to the fear of Russia in the United States, and this fact weighed heavily on the minds of the social democrats
  • Partnership and compromise led to a weakening of the SPD position, and had they not compromised perhaps they would have been more militantly opposed to WWI

3. The Party and the Trade Unions

  • Prior to the 1860s workers organizations were rare in Germany due to reactionary repression after 1848
  • First modern [[trade union]] in Germany was formed in 1862 called the Fortbildungsverein fur Buchdrucker und Schriftsetzer
    • Focused on ecnomic well-being of members

Early Social Democracy and Economic Organization

  • Because the [[ADAV]] espoused the [[iron law of wages]], they were not vigorous supporters of trade unions
    • only pressure from below caused them to become involved with trade unions
  • In contrast to the ADAV [[August Bebel]] recognized the importance of trade unions and worked for their establishment
  • Strikes were contentious within the SDAP at first, because strikes were not always a net gain for workers, and in fact sometimes made things worse
  • During the reactionary repression period trade unions all but vanished, as they were difficult to operate in exile
  • Trade unions were never subordinate to the SP(A)D, it’s just that the party benefitted from the success of the unions

Centralization and Growth of the Trade Unions

  • After the antisocialist law was repealed, the German trade unions unified, making it easier to deal with the SPD as an equal
  • Union membership exploded after the repeal of the antisocialist laws
  • As time went on, as the unions grew, so did their bureaucracy
  • [[Carl Legien]] was the head of the general union commission from 1890 to 1920, and was roughly the equivalent of [[Samuel Gompers]], but not as powerful
    • Legien was an active socialist an SPD member as well

Party-Trade Union Relations to 1905

  • Although the party did not believe in the [[iron law of wages]], they continued to believe that improved working conditions were only half measures
  • The party did not heavily invest in trade union activity because they felt that capitalism was going to be overthrown any day now, and that it would be superfluous
  • In 1893 trade union membership made up 12.3% of the party vote, and by 1907 it was 57%
  • The author believes that despite this high membership, the party should have been prioritized, and yet it was not

The Mass Strike Controversy and the Mannheim Agreement

  • The [[mass strike]] tactic was one that had been around long before the SPD

    • [[Rudolf Hilferding]] had proposed it as a way to get out of the parliamentary gridlock the SPD found themselves in
  • By 1903 the SPD was actively opposed to the idea of a mass strike, so much so that when the idea was floated at the [[Second International]], the SPD simply ignored the matter

  • The [[1905 Russian Revolution]] had shown the value in this tactic, however

  • The party became conservative regarding strikes because the rising cost of living etc. was making striking more risky

    The same socio-economic situation which made union leaders conservative had the opposite effect on the rank and file. The rising cost of living, the intense and widely shared experience of strike and lockout, and the unprecedented aggressiveness of employers generated in the workers a new militancy and a receptiveness to radical political ideas. — Carl Schorske, German Social Democracy, 1905-1917, as quoted in this book

  • Between 1905 and 1906 the use of the mass strike was fiercely debated

    • Trade unions opened the debate with opposition to the tactic
    • At a party congress in 1906 [[August Bebel]] gave one of the longest speeches in party history saying that it was a worthwhile tactic. The resolution passed
      • He believed that trade unions should be subordinate to the party
    • In 1906 the general union commission and the central committee of the SPD signed a secret deal saying that the party would fund strikes but would actively work to prevent strikes
    • The mass strike was thus only to be used as a defensive tactic
  • The author implies that the increasing bureaucracy in the trade unions caused a rise in such conservative attitudes

Trade Union Influence on Party Policies

4. State Within the State

  • German socialists were pariahs in their own country for a number of reasons, including being perceived as unpatriotic and anti-religious
  • Because socialists were excluded from institutions and things such as social clubs, socialists often made their own counterpart organizations

Party Organization Prior to 1905

  • Party rarely kept records about itself for fear of being cracked down upon by police
  • Most important role in the SPD prior to 1905 were the Vertrauenspersonen, elected channels of communication between the locals
  • The most atomic form of the party was the local
  • Strong local personalities led to the reform of 1905

Organizational Reforms of 1905

  • The two things that caused the 1905 reforms were the inadequate reforms of 1900, the fact that the association laws in Prussia were eased, and that the left wing of the party was concerned about the moderate part of the party growing
    • These radicals felt the only solution was strong centralization

Summary of 1905 reforms

  • Vertrauenspersonen system was done away with

  • Between local level orgs were a district and state level organization, which in turn reported to the national

  • Bureaucracy was added at every level, causing conservative swings in the party

    Like so many other bureaucracies in so many other places, that of the SPD was better designed to maintain the status quo than it was to respond swiftly to the frequently changing moods of the people it supposedly served.

  • The centralization countered the reformist bend of the party but not the conservative one

    Emotionally and intellectually, many of the radicals were included to place a great deal of faith in the radical potential of the SPD’s mass following, so much so that they failed to discover until it was too late that the bureaucracy very effective buffered party policy and the leadership from the pressure of the more radical lower echelons of the movement.

    So powerful was the attraction of organization for the radicals that on at least two occasions when they analyzed the dilemma of the party as a crisis of leadership, their only solution was to expand the executive. In August 1905, during the peak of the debate over the mass strike, Karl Kautsky observed to his friend Victor Adler , the leader of Austrian socialism, that the executive was “a collegium of old men who have become so absorbed in bureaucracy and parliamentarianism that they curse every increase of their work load.” Kautsky’s solution was to add new members to the executive, including two or three trade unionists. Given the profoundly reformist inclinations of most leading trade unionists, these additions could only have made the executive more cautious.

  • The growing bureaucratization brought with it standardization and office work, e.g. purchasing of typewriters

Party Congresses

  • Party congresses were the top of the organizational structure of the SPD, which dealt with either exceptional issues or challenges to party leadership
  • Police attended party congresses and could interrupt speakers and even shut down sessions
  • Workers were over-represented in the SDP, since most of its membership was industrial urban workers

Party Press

  • The primary function of the SDP press was education and propaganda
  • Wilhelm Liebneckt: “Knowledge is power.”
  • [[Clara Zetkin]] was most notable in this period, as her background was in journalism, she was a major figure in SPD publishing
  • SPD publishing included newspapers, theoretical journals, special interest workers newspapers, and so on
  • SPD newspapers only accounted for at most 2% of Germany’s total newspapers

The Making of Socialists

  • Everyday language often had radical underpinnings in imperial Germany. Arbeiter often in effect meant “socialist” for example
  • By the 1900s the socialists had all kinds of ancillary worker’s associations, such as cycling clubs, singing clubs, etc.
    • A “free thinkers” club to combat theism
  • These associations were often not part of a union or party and were not financially supported in that manner
  • Workers libraries were set up but they were not very popular until after 1914
  • Socialism was largely a male activity in Germany, and this had four results:
    1. Women often formed their own associations
    2. Women who managed to join male-dominated socialist groups tended to be more radical than their male counterparts
    3. Women were frequently oppressed within the party, and weren’t allowed to participate politically until 1908
    4. After 1908 women participation exploded. The end of separate organizations reduced both their radicalism and influence

5. Patterns of Regional Development

  • Three major factors effected the development of the SPD:
    1. Nature of economic activity of an area’s population
    2. Political practices of a given region
    3. Overwhelming dominance of Prussia
  • A recurring debate throughout the party was whether or not to vote for budgets. The socialists always voted no
  • The SPD operated all throughout Germany, not just inside of Prussia, and it was these regional differences that caused certain parties to behave differently

The SPD in Prussia

  • When Prussia acquired the rest of Germany, Prussia simply became the powerhouse of the larger German state
  • State workers had to vote using open ballots and could not legally strike or join socialist parties. This caused the SPD to focus on public workers in particular
  • A large debate that went through the entire history of the SPD in this time was whether or not the SPD should participate in the Landtag, the local Prussian representative assembly
    • Getting elected to the Landtag was difficult
    • Socialists wanted to get elected to try and change the insane Prussian voting laws

The Socialists in Bavaria

  • Bavaria was very agricultural, less draconian than Prussia, and open to reform
  • A prominent socialist in the SPD branch in Bavaria managed to make the peasant question a national issue
  • Bavarian socialists were hostile to the centralization efforts of the party

6. Theory and Intellectuals

  • The official ideology of the SPD was [[Marxism]] but that doesn’t mean even most of the party or most of the rank-and-file were necessarily guided by Marxism

    For the most part the party was eclectic and opportunistic in its approach to practical activities, with limits imposed only by a very vague, rarely articulated set of assumptions.These assumptions—including hostility to the state, concern for the welfare of industrial workers, rejection of capitalism, and a commitment to political democracy (i.e. universal sufferage with a responsible Representative government)—were not sufficiently precise or consistent to justify the label theory.

    p. 189

  • Theory was not always the most important part of the SPD, and it was not consistent, but it was majorly funded by the party

Theoretical Activities to 1890

  • [[Ferdinand Lassalle]] drove the theory of the social democratic movement initially, promoting:
  • Lassalle believed that the state could eventually be used to move away from capitalism and into socialism
  • Lassalle was more of a figurehead than a theoretician
  • Babel and Liebknecht believed that the party’s theory would develop with party actions, and as such only developed theory when they believed it would help them politically
  • [[Eugen Dühring]], in the early days of the worker’s movement, proposed a comprehensive system for understanding the universe, and human society for all history, rejecting all major thinkers before him
  • Duhring was majorly influential, having been an enemy of the enemy of the social democrats and a reputable intellectual
  • [[Eduard Bernstein]] was a disciple of Duhring’s
  • [[Marx]] and [[Engels]] countered Duhring with the text now known as [[Anti-Dühring]]
  • [[Anti-Dühring]] converted [[Karl Kautsky]] and [[Eduard Bernstein]] to Marxism
  • Engels gave Kautsky a copy of [[Critique of the Gotha Programme]], something which had circulated privately but had never been published as of the late 1880s. Kautsky used this to develop the strong theoretical base of the party
  • Upon the publication of Gotha, the Reichstag Faktion harshly attacked Kautsky
  • [[Wilhelm Liebknecht]] had never deeply studied Marx’s ideas, but often used the fact that he personally knew Marx and Engels as a cudgel. He had always instead been focused on politics

[[Karl Kautsky]]

  • [[Karl Kautsky]] was perhaps the largest popularizer of Marxism after [[Engels]]
  • Kautsky’s earlier works did not add anything to Marxism, but were summarizations and simplifications of Marx’s works
  • [[Kautsky]] and [[Bebel]] had a mutually cooperative working relationship, even if they occassionally disagreed
  • [[Eduard Bernstein]]’s [[revisionism]] was combatted harshly by Kautsky, who ended up winning out against Bernstein twice in two major party votes on whether or not the party should become reformist
  • Kautsky’s influence in the party decreased rapidly with the death of Bebel, and he finally left the SPD in 1913 after opposing entering the first world war
  • Kautsky believed the SPD was “revolutionary” and not “revolution-making”, that the goal of socialist activity should be to heighen contradictions in capitalist society rather than armed insurrection
    • Kautsky believed in the “strategy of attrition”, of wearing down the enemy (capitalist society) progressively

[[Eduard Bernstein]]

Initially, Bernstein was not very theoretical. He devoted much of his early time in the SPD to organizing work.

Bernstein became an editor of an important party newspaper, and received personal correspondence with Engels. His editorial line sided with Bebel and Liebkneckt.

Bernstein worked out of Switzerland during the outlaw period, and then once the Reich had pressured Switzerland to expel the German socialists, he moved to London until 1901.

While in London Bernstein came under the influence of English thinkers, and once Engels died, he felt free to publish his own opinions without fear of offending an old friend. His first work is called Evolutionary Socialism.

The author makes the distinction between [[reformism]] and /[[revisionism]] /, where the former believes in political action to reform either the party or the state. The latter, according to Bernstein, is the active revising of Marxist orthodoxy under the auspices that it’s insufficient.

Bernstein ended up rejecting the core of Marxism, in favor of a gradualist approach to achieving socialism.

Many of Bernstein’s initial claims were common sense, and not well-researched. Bernstein was an autodidact, not a trained intellectual. Although is claims proved to be challenging for contemporary Marxists, his claims were also shallow and lacked rigor. He was very harshly criticized, even internationally.

Bernstein’s revisionism took root and could not be rooted out by the party, as the party refused to take a strong stance for or against it.

[[Rosa Luxemburg]]

Luxemburg was one of the very few prominent women in German social democracy, and was an exceptionally talented thinker. Despite this, she was personally very harsh and this tended to isolate her from others. It’s perhaps for this reason, the author speculates, that she has no lasting institutional staying power in German social democracy.

Luxemburg received a doctorate in law in Poland, and became involved in the international socialist movement by means of her ability to speak multiple languages. She was exiled from Poland eventually, and found her way to Germany, having been a close correspondant to Karl Kautsky.

Luxemburg always took the position of radicals, and since the SPD was trying to balance good standing with many political alliances, this meant the party itself would always play a centrist position, obviously antithetical to the radicalism of Luxemburg.

Luxemburg wrote Reform or Revolution in response to Bernstein, arguing that his attitude was petty-bourgeois rather than radical. His reforms had nothing to do with abolishing wage labor.

Luxemburg alienated herself from trade unionists due to something she wrote in Social Reform or Revolution where she says that unions [[can only hope to achieve better working conditions]] in the short term and only locally, and themselves cannot overcome capitalism.

In the debate on the [[mass strike]], Luxemburg’s contribution to the debate can be found in Mass Strike, Party, and Trade Unions.

Much of Luxemburg’s work within the SPD during the middle of the first decade of the 1900s was to push the party in a more radical and active direction.

Luxemburg’s most famous work is The Accumulation of Capital, which deals with capitalist reproduction, which Marx also deals with in [[Capital Vol. 2]] and Vol. 3. She weighs in on [[imperialism]] (she felt that imperialism was not special in terms of the characteristics of capitalism overall) and felt that the role of socialists in an imperialist country were more pressing than those in non-imperialist ones.

The SPD and the [[Second International]]

Prior to the outbreak of the [[First World War]], [[internationalism]] seemed like a unique characteristic of the working class movement, with German social democrats at the forefront of this internationalism.

The SPD was the biggest financier of the Second International.

The SPD almost always had to worry about the reaction from the German state, unlike socialist parties in other European nations.

The question of [[imperialism]] was of utmost importance to the Second International, and the SPD ultimately played a moderating role in this discussion.

According to the author, the SPD contributed to the Second International in the following ways:

  1. Its presence guaranteed that it was taken seriously by the bourgeois world.
  2. The German presence stabilized the otherwise volatile organization.
  3. The strict German attitude of not cooperating with non-socialist forces delayed the growth of reformist positions elsewhere, while not necessarily advocating a more radical direction.


The lack of political unity in the German worker’s movement contributed to the rise of [[Nazism]].

Historians have generally focused on internal weaknesses or failings of the SPD to explain its inability to achieve its espoused ends and to hold the working class together. Some have argued that an opportunistic, reformist leadership sold out the rank and file, betraying socialist principles by not pressing for radical reform in the years before 1914 to 1918. Others have argued that ireresponsible elements of the party’s left wing needlessly imperiled working-class unity and the prospects for meaningful reform by talking revolution and urging putschist activities that could only result in disaster. Leninist critics have found fault with the party’s rather lose organizational structure and its middle-of-the-road theory. More moderate analysts have emphasized the extent to which the radical ideology of the prewar years failed to come to grips with the real gains made by workers during that period.

These arguments all carry some weight. There can be little doubt that, however justified its fears of repression may have been, the reluctance of the SPD leadership to use more aggressive means to pressure for social and political reform severely restricted the ability of the movement to influence developments in Imperial Germany. Similarly, the cumbersome bureaucratic structure that grew up after 1905-1906 clearly isolated the leadership from the sometimes volatile moods of the rank and file. At the same time, if the crisis of interwar Germany was in part the result of the lack of unity in the working class, the problem would only have been exacerbated had the party leadership pursued a more aggressive course earlier; the forces favoring moderation ⸻ and they were formidable ⸺ would have been unlikely to tolerate such a posture.

Given the ambiguous nature of poltics in the Second Reich and the important regional distinctions within the party, as well as the explicit and implicit differences between the party and the trade unions, unity probably could only have been maintained as it was; that is, by studiously avoiding confrontation with the enemy, trying to preseve internal solidarity, and just waiting for the revolution. While there may have been room for tactical variations on specific issues, the general approach of the party could not have been much different.

Ultimately the fact that the party was constantly trying to balance trade union interest and avoid being repressed caused them to take a more moderate approach, and ultimately betray their revolutionary ambitions.

The SPD itself was torn on the question of [[reform vs. revolution]], and as such had an incoherent attitude towards addressing this question.

The SPD as Model

It’s noteworthy that both the [[Second Reich]] and the [[SPD]] were known for their sprawling bureaucracy, leading [[Max Weber]] to conclude that it was a new type of organization.

[[The success of the SPD led to an undermining of its radical activity]].

The SPD probably had one of the most effective propaganda wings of any organization in Germany at the time.

The fact that the SPD had a spurious relationship to formal ideology also caused them to have inconsistent political action sometimes.

[[Lenin]]’s conception of the [[vanguard party]] was a response to the SPD’s strategy of a “party in waiting.”


Receiving pushes... (requires JavaScript)
Loading context... (requires JavaScript)