1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bebel, Ferdinand August
BEBEL, FERDINAND AUGUST (1840– ), German socialist, was born at Cologne on the 22nd of February 1840; he became a turner and worked at Leipzig. Here he took a prominent part in the workmen’s movement and in the association of working men which had been founded under the influence of Schultz-Delitzsch; at first an opponent of socialism, he came under the influence of Liebknecht, and after 1865 he was a confirmed advocate of socialism. With Liebknecht he belonged to the branch of the socialists which was in close correspondence with Karl Marx and the International, and refused to accept the leadership of Schweitzer, who had attempted to carry on the work after Lassalle’s death. He was one of those who supported a vote of want of confidence in Schweitzer at the Eisenach conference in 1867, from which his party was generally known as “the Eisenacher.” In this year he was elected a member of the North German Reichstag for a Saxon constituency, and, with an interval from 1881 to 1883, remained a member of the German parliament. His great organizing talent and oratorical power quickly made him one of the leaders of the socialists and their chief spokesman in parliament. In 1870 he and Liebknecht were the only members who did not vote the extraordinary subsidy required for the war with France; the followers of Lassalle, on the other hand, voted for the government proposals. He was the only Socialist who was elected to the Reichstag in 1871, but he used his position to protest against the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine and to express his full sympathy with the Paris Commune. Bismarck afterwards said that this speech of Bebel’s was a “ray of light,” showing him that Socialism was an enemy to be fought against and crushed; and in 1872 Bebel was accused in Brunswick of preparation for high treason, and condemned to two years’ imprisonment in a fortress, and, for insulting the German emperor, to nine months’ ordinary imprisonment. After his release he helped to organize, at the congress of Gotha, the united party of Social Democrats, which had been formed during his imprisonment. After the passing of the Socialist Law he continued to show great activity in the debates of the Reichstag, and was also elected a member of the Saxon parliament; when the state of siege was proclaimed in Leipzig he was expelled from the city, and in 1886 condemned to nine months’ imprisonment for taking part in a secret society. Although the rules of the Social Democratic party do not recognize a leader or president, Bebel subsequently became by far the most influential member of the party. In the party meetings of 1890 and 1891 his policy was severely attacked, first by the extremists, the “young” Socialists from Berlin, who wished to abandon parliamentary action; against these Bebel won a complete victory. On the other side he was involved in a quarrel with Volmar and his school, who desired to put aside from immediate consideration the complete attainment of the Socialist ideal, and proposed that the party should aim at bringing about, not a complete overthrow of society, but a gradual amelioration. This conflict of tendencies continued, and Bebel came to be regarded as the chief exponent of the traditional views of the orthodox Marxist party. He was exposed to some natural ridicule on the ground that the “Kladderadatsch,” which he often spoke of as imminent, failed to make its appearance. On the other hand, though a strong opponent of militarism, he publicly stated that foreign nations attacking Germany must not expect the help or the neutrality of the Social Democrats. His book, Die Frau und der Socialismus (1893), which went through many editions and contained an attack on the institution of marriage, identified him with the most extreme forms of Socialism.
See also Mehring, Geschichte der deutschen Social-Demokratie (Stuttgart, 1898); Reports of the Annual Meetings of the Social Democratic Party, Berlin Vorwärts Publishing Company (from 1890); B. Russell, German Social-Democracy (London, 1897). (J. W. He.)