1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bebel, Ferdinand August

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13560101922 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 30 — Bebel, Ferdinand August

BEBEL, FERDINAND AUGUST (1840–1913), German socialist (see 3.601). During Bebel’s last years his views regarding the revision of the Social Democratic programme underwent a considerable change; he ultimately favoured revision in the sense of coöperation with non-Socialist political parties in democratic reforms. In the Reichstag he continued to oppose with great energy the world-policy and the naval expansion with which William II. and his successive chancellors were identified. At the same time he guarded himself against the reproach of favouring a policy of non-resistance to foreign aggression, and on one occasion declared that he would be the first to shoulder his rifle if Germany were invaded. His attitude towards imperial and autocratic Russia was throughout uncompromising. He denounced the complaisance of Prince Bülow’s Government towards the Russian Government in respect of the treatment of Russian political refugees, and it would hardly be too much to say that he would have welcomed a rupture with Russia on almost any ground. His influence in this regard powerfully contributed to foster those sentiments in the Social Democratic party which led it, a year after his death, to acclaim the declaration of war against Russia on Aug. 1 1914. In internal affairs he particularly distinguished himself by his denunciation of the maltreatment of soldiers by officers and still more frequently by non-commissioned officers. His efforts in this matter had received great encouragement when Albert of Saxony (1828–1902) issued an edict dealing with the maltreatment of soldiers in the Saxon contingent, thus cutting the ground from under the feet of the Imperial Government, which had persistently attempted to deny or to explain away the cases adduced by Bebel. Bebel had amassed a fortune—some £30,000, it is said—from the proceeds of his writings, and this was increased by a legacy of some £20,000 left him, curiously enough, by an officer who had profited by his advice in a disciplinary case in which the officer had once been involved. He owned a villa on the Lake of Zurich where in later life he spent a great part of the year. One of his last public appearances was at an International Peace Conference at Bern in 1913. He died at a sanatorium at Passuggin, Switzerland, on Aug. 13 1913.