The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Bebel, Ferdinand August

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659783The Encyclopedia Americana — Bebel, Ferdinand August

BEBEL, bā'bĕl, Ferdinand August, German Socialist leader: b. Deutz-Koeln 22 Feb. 1840; d. Passugg, Switzerland, 14 Aug. 1913. The son of a Prussian-Pole who was a noncommissioned officer in the Prussian infantry, Bebel was born in military barracks and apprenticed as a boy to a wood-turner. Like most German workmen at that time, he traveled extensively in search of work. At Salzburg, where he lived for some time, he joined a Roman Catholic workmen's club. When in Tyrol in 1859 he volunteered for service in the war against Italy, but was rejected; and in his own country he was rejected likewise as physically unfit for the army. In 1860 he settled in Leipzig as a master turner, making horn buttons, and speedily drifted into the political movements which were then beginning, but as a radical, not a socialist. He fell under the influence of Wilhelm Liebknecht (d. 1900), in 1864, and was converted to the doctrines of Marx (q.v.). In 1867 he was returned to the North German Parliament, and two years later helped to found the German Social Democratic party. In 1870 he spoke in Parliament against the continuance of the war with France and subsequently denounced the annexation of Alsace and Lorraine. He was arrested for high treason, but acquitted; in 1872, however, he was again prosecuted and sentenced to two years' confinement in a fortress, and this and other terms of imprisonment enabled him to make up for his lack of elementary education. He remained a member of the Reichstag from 1871 till his death, except during 1881-83. In 1874 he took a partner and founded a small button factory, for which he acted as drummer, but in 1889 he gave up his business to devote himself wholly to politics, and from the death of Liebknecht he had been the head of the party, succeeding him also in the editorial chair of Vorwaerts, the often-suppressed socialist organ. Bebel was not a pure pacifist; he admitted that military service was a civic duty. In later years his socialism became more modern. He was unlike the typical demagogue, being small, slight and nervous, but he had an admirable voice and was an exceptionally logical and incisive orator. Besides his autobiography he wrote ‘Our Aims’ (1874); ‘The German Peasant War’ (1876); ‘The Life and Theories of Charles Fourier’ (1888); ‘Women and Socialism: The Christian Point of View in the Woman Question’ (1893).