German Social Democracy 1872 – 1914: the fight against organisational opportunism, Part 1

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The capitulation of the proletarian German Social Democratic Party to imperialism in 1914 is well known amongst revolutionaries. So is the fact of the opportunist decline of the SPD that led to this momentous betrayal of the working class.

What is less well known is the continual struggle waged by the revolutionary wing of the Party since its inception against the forces of reformist opportunism, not just at the theoretical level by such seminal works as the Critique of the Gotha Programme by Karl Marx, the Anti-Duhring by Friedrich Engels, or Reform or Revolution by Rosa Luxemburg, but also at the level of the defence of organisational class principles. 

The following article, often drawing on research into books and documentation that are only available in the German lnguage, chronicles the history of this organisational struggle in two parts. The first part, published here, covers the period from 1872 to 1890, from the Gotha to the Efurt programmes; the second part, to be published subsequently, will deal with the ensuing period to 1914.

Part 1. 1872-1890

Chapter 1, 1872-5

From the Paris Commune to the Gotha Congress.

The fight to preserve key acquisitions.

After the suppression of the Paris Commune of 1871, the bourgeoisie reacted with a wave of repression across the whole of Europe. Of course, the Communards in France, more than 20,000 of whom had been murdered, 38,000 had been arrested and over 7000 deported by the Versailles government, were the main victims. But in view of this first major successful seizure of power in a city by the working class, workers organisations in other countries were also subjected to increased repression. At the same time, the ruling class stimulated an attack from within against the First International - with Bakunin and his Alliance of Socialist Democracy as spearheads. With the help of a secret organisation, the previous achievements of the First International were to be undermined at the level of functioning, the First International was to be reduced to anarchy. At the Hague Congress of 1872, the General Council of the First International, headed by Marx and Engels, exposed this plot. This struggle to defend the organisation was to become one of the most valuable treasures of the revolutionary movement's experience, the significance and consequences of which were largely underestimated at the time and long forgotten. In a series of articles (International Review 84-88), the ICC has described this struggle and its lessons in detail. We recommend them to our readers as indispensable material to understand the subsequent development.[1]

The German sections of the First International participated actively in the preparation of the Hague Congress - against the resistance of the rulers in Germany. After the Paris Commune, the formation of sections of the International had been banned in Germany, only individual adhesion was possible. Thus there was officially no membership of an organisation from Germany in the First International and also officially no local sections. In most European countries no organisation of any noteworthy size could exist if it openly declared its affiliation to the International after 1872. The government forbade the members living in Germany to travel to The Hague and to act as delegates, yet they managed to circumvent these coercive measures.

Wilhelm Liebknecht and August Bebel, leading figures of the SDAP (Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei/Eisenacher [2] (1869-1875) were imprisoned for 2 years for high treason for adopting an internationalist position during the Franco-German war. Many comrades writing for ‘Volksstaat', (the publication of the SDAP) were arrested and the publication of material about the Hague Congress was forbidden by the authorities. Nevertheless the German delegation at the Congress was able to provide 15 delegates out of a total of 65 delegates (i.e. almost a quarter) and play an active role. Marx had received a mandate from Leipzig, Engels one from Breslau, and Cuno was chairman of the committee investigating the activities of the Bakuninist Alliance.

After the conclusion of the Hague Congress (2-7 September 1872), the delegates immediately went to the party congress of the Social Democratic Workers' Party (Eisenacher) in Mainz (7-11 September).

While in the beginning the Eisenachers took a vehement stand against the Bakuninists even after the Hague Congress, the statements of the ‘Volksstaat’ against the Bakuninists softened shortly after autumn 1872/73. In this phase Liebknecht abstained from criticizing the anarchists, he wanted to mollify the Lassalleans[3]. Marx and Engels, on the other hand, threatened that if the ‘Volksstaat’ stayed silent on the question, they would have to terminate their cooperation. Marx and Engels said we cannot achieve real unity by abandoning principles. Following criticism by Marx and Engels, the ‘Volksstaat’ reactivated its criticisms of the Bakuninists for a short time.[4] Meanwhile, the Lassalleans continued their support for the Bakuninists. In April 1873, Lassalleans rejected the decisions of the Hague Congress and even sent delegates to a Bakuninist meeting in Switzerland. 

The Gotha unification congress and the dilution of principles.

The tendency of the Eisenacher Party to make concessions to the Lassallean Party (General German Workers Association - ADAV) was justified, among other things, by the prospective unification. Nevertheless at the Coburg Congress in 1874 the SDAP still mainly discussed mutual support in the class struggle and an immediate unification of the SDAP and the ADAV was not on the agenda. Contrary to the vote of Marx and Engels however, the leaders of the SDAP raced to a quick unification in Gotha in March 1875 and founded the Socialist Workers Party of Germany (SAPD) with the Lassalleans.

"One must not be distracted by the cry for "unification" (...) Of course every party leadership wants to see success, that is also quite good. But there are circumstances where one must have the courage to sacrifice the current success for more important things. Especially for a party like ours, whose ultimate success is so absolutely certain, and which has developed so colossally in our lifetime and under our eyes, instant success is by no means always and absolutely necessary. (...) In any case, I believe that in time the capable elements among the Lassalleans will turn towards you by themselves and that it would therefore be unwise to eat an unripe fruit, as the unifying people want. By the way, the old Hegel already said: "A party proves to be the victorious one by splitting itself and being able to tolerate splitting".

In the same letter, Engels warned that after the Eisenachers saw themselves in competition with the ADAV, as it were, one "gets used to thinking about the ADAV in everything (...) In our opinion, which we have found confirmed by long practice, the right tactic in propaganda is not to alienate individual people and memberships from the opponent here and there, but to work on the large masses, who are still indifferent. A single new force that one has drawn from the raw is worth more than a Lassallean defector who always carries the seed of his wrong direction into the party." [5]

After the Paris Commune was defeated and the First International was de facto dissolved in Europe after 1873[6], the focus of the work shifted to the different countries. "The centre of the movement shifted to Germany"[7] where the Marxist tendency had won political authority thanks to its internationalism during the Franco-Prussian war.

In the 1870s, the SAPD then was one of the first parties to be founded as a merger of two existing parties in one country. Since no major international cooperation was possible immediately after the dissolution of the First International, the international labour movement was faced with the task of working towards the founding of a party in the different countries and placing it programmatically and organisationally on a higher level than in the 1860s.[8]

In Austria, the United Social Democratic Party of Austria was founded in April 1874 (its program was based on that of the Eisenachers).[9] In the other countries, the process of party formation only began later.[10]

The Gotha Founding Congress of the SAPD expressed some signs of progress, such as the fact that for the first time a party with fixed organisational principles existed in a whole country. The merger of two organisations had made it possible to overcome the "leader dictatorship" which had previously been exercised in the ADAV by Lassalle and to place the leadership of the party in collective and centralised hands. Lassalle, who died in a duel 1867, had played the role of a president with almost dictatorial powers and claims among the Lassalleans, and his approach still cast its shadow over the ADAV.

The statutes of the ADAV of 1872 demanded:

"III. membership § 3: Every worker becomes a member of the association with full and equal voting rights by simple declaration of membership and can resign at any time. § 6 The affairs of the association are administered by the executive committee, consisting of a president and 24 members”

In the following points above all the powers of the president were further defined. The statutes of the SAPD, founded in 1875, said however:

§1 Anyone can belong to the party who is committed to the principles of the party programme and actively promotes the interests of the workers, including by donating money. Those who do not contribute for three months are no longer regarded as party comrades".

Because there were already bans on the formation of associations and active participation in revolutionary organisations, the statutes avoided references to active cooperation in the organisation.   

It was stated that "party members who act against the interests of the party may be excluded from the board. Appeals to the party congress are admissible". (§ 2 Statutes). In this respect, continuity was established with the methods of the Communist League, which were, however, only passed on via the Eisenachers.

While the newly founded party therefore represented a step forward at the organisational level, the party reflected the great political immaturity at the programmatic level, which manifested itself in a multitude of birth defects.

Of the Lassalleans, 73 delegates were present for 15,322 members, 56 delegates for 9121 votes from the Eisenachers.[11] Because the Lassalleans were more confused, the leadership felt that compromises should be made towards them and programmatic dilution accepted in the interests of unity. When Karl Marx sent the “Critique of the Gotha Programme” to Wilhelm Bracke on May 5, 1875, the party leadership concealed it from Congress and party members; even Bebel, the most famous leader did not know about the letter:

"After the coalition congress will have been held, Engels and I will publish a brief statement stating that we are quite at odds with the above-mentioned programme of principles and have nothing to do with it. (...) Apart from that, it is my duty not to recognise by diplomatic silence what I believe to be a thoroughly reprehensible program that demoralises the party. Every step of the real movement is more important than a dozen programmes. If it was not possible to go beyond the Eisenach programme - and the circumstances did not allow this - we should simply have concluded an agreement for action against the common enemy. If, however, one makes programmes of principle (instead of postponing them until the time when such a thing was prepared by longer common activity), one erects milestones in front of the whole world by which it measures the progress of the party movement (...) One obviously wanted to avoid all criticism and prevent any reflection in the party. One knows how the mere fact of unification satisfies the workers, but one is mistaken in believing that this instant success is not too dearly bought. Incidentally, the programme is useless, [it only contains] a canonisation of Lassalle's articles of faith." [12]  [13]

Engels wrote in October 1875 in a letter to Wilhelm Bracke:

"We entirely agree with you that Liebknecht, through his zeal to reach agreement, to pay any price for it, has bungled the whole thing. (...) Once the unification process had been set in motion on a rotten basis and had been trumpeted, it was not allowed to fail”[14]

Marx and Engels' vehement criticism of this lack of clarity and even opportunistic attitude made clear how much Marx and Engels emphasised programmatic clarity, and that unity must not be brought about by the abandonment of the programme and the union with unreliable, unclear forces. It would be better to be few at first but working on a clear basis rather than many on an unclear basis. Marx and Engels thus took the view that unity should only be created on a clear basis and that clarity should not fall victim to unity. The marxists' adherence to programmatic intransigence and loyalty to principles characterised their behaviour toward opportunistic tendencies and forces that emerged later. In this respect, the attitude of Marx and Engels, to oppose unity at any price, but fight for clarity and without fear of demarcation, and possibly division, stood in contrast to the later policies of the SPD.

At the same time, the way in which Marx and Engels' criticism of these weaknesses was dealt with brought to light a tendency that has repeatedly arisen in the revolutionary movement: the evasion, if not the concealment, of criticisms on the pretext that unity or unification was more important than clarity. As we show below, it was not until 1891 (i.e. 16 years later and after Marx's death) that Friedrich Engels was able to push through the publication of this critique in the Neue Zeit against the fierce resistance of the opportunists in the party leadership. The Gotha Programme later facilitated the emergence of opportunism by anchoring certain opportunist views in writing. Only at Engels' insistence was a point included in the programme that proclaimed the solidarity of the German proletariat with the workers of all countries and its willingness to fulfil its international duties.([15]) In addition, apart from the insufficient emphasis on internationalism at the Gotha Founding Congress, almost no reference was made to the consequences of the experience of the Paris Commune. There was already a kind of gap in the historical continuity and in the transmission of the experience from the struggle for the organisation against the Bakuninists.

Another important aspect of the dilution or distortion of important political criticisms was their misrepresentation as something arising from personal motives. Even Franz Mehring, who wrote an otherwise penetrating biography of Marx and a history of German Social Democracy, fell into this trap:

"Marx didn’t realise that the draft programme faithfully reflected the theoretical views of both factions; he believed that the Eisenachers had already grasped all the consequences of scientific communism, while the Lassalleans were a retarded sect

"Usually accustomed to judging the workers' movement by the major importance of its steps, this time he put things too much under the microscope and searched behind small awkwardness, unevenness, inaccuracies of expression for sneaky intentions that really were not behind it. Nor can it be denied that his antipathy to Lassalle in this letter influenced his judgment..."[16]

Thus the discussion about basic principles was played down and presented as a question of personal antipathy between Marx and Lassalle. Instead of emphasising that the overcoming of Lassalleanism meant a partial liberation, Mehring wrote:

"Lassalleanism was extinguished in these Gotha days forever, and yet they were the days of Lassalle's triumph. However right Marx might have been with his objections to the Gotha programme, the fate of his letter clearly showed that the ways in which a powerful and invincible workers' party could develop in Germany as the carrier of the social revolution had been correctly recognised by Lassalle. "[17]  

At the same time, there were signs of ambiguity in the way that Mehring "contrasted" party development in different countries with development at the international level.

"The idea of international solidarity had taken root so deeply in the modern proletariat that it no longer needed external support, and the national workers' parties developed so peculiarly and vigorously through the industrial upheavals of the 1870s that they went beyond the scope of the international...”[18]

After the crushing of the Paris Commune and the impossibility of continuing the work of the First International, the activities of revolutionaries had first to be directed to the different countries in order to create the conditions for the foundation of parties. But this focus on the individual countries did not mean that international orientation and cooperation had become obsolete and that international solidarity or even an International would thus become superfluous, or that the rapid growth of the parties in different countries would even cause the national framework to grow beyond the international framework. Perhaps this view reflects Mehring's lack of international spirit, to which Engels had already referred in his previous criticism of the Gotha programme. An internationalist orientation can only be realised through a constant and conscious struggle against national or even localist priorities. Although the main part of the activities was focused on the development of the SAPD, efforts were also made to establish international contacts and prepare the foundation of the Second International in 1889. 

For reasons of space, we cannot go into the SAPD's contribution to the founding of the Second International here.

Moreover, the tendency to ‘forget’ acquisitions continued. The determination of a large part of the German delegates at the Hague Congress in 1872, and the subsequent defence of the policy of the General Council against the Bakuninists by the SDAP, seemed to have been buried in Gotha in 1875. The lessons of the Hague Congress, which had taken place only three years earlier and where revolutionary principles had been vehemently defended, were not taken up any further. There was no evidence of continuity and transmission of this experience. Instead, Mehring later also tended to portray this struggle, like the differences between Lassalle and Marx, as a conflict between the personal authority of Marx and that of Bakunin.

Chapter 2, 1878 to 1890

The period of the Anti-Socialist Law

The fight for revolutionary organisation against parliamentary opportunism

At the Gotha Unification Congress in 1875, Hamburg was elected as the seat of the party executive and Leipzig as the seat of the Control Commission. The ruling class was alarmed by the growing labour movement, and the SAPD was banned within the scope of the Prussian Law on Associations from March 1876, and a short time later, in Bavaria and Saxony as well. The bourgeoisie in Germany began to forge its plans for a general ban on the SAPD. The assassination attempts by two individuals were used as a pretext to pass the Socialist Law on October 21, 1878.

All associations with social democratic, socialist or communist aims were to be dissolved, printed publications and assemblies with the aim of disseminating such aims banned, as were educational associations, dance clubs and theatre clubs (the members of the SAPD were previously usually officially registered as members of an association).

"Subsequently, 1,299 printed publications, 95 trade unions, 23 support associations, 106 political associations and 108 so-called amusement associations were banned. Approximately 1,500 persons were sentenced to imprisonment, almost 900 were expelled from various places in the Reich. Those deported who did not go into exile were mostly forced to resettle in remote regions and tried to continue working politically there. Only the Reichstag fraction of the SAP remained unchallenged due to the right of voting a person in a constituency and was able to continue its parliamentary work."[19]

In other words, while the party was to be hindered in its activities at the grassroots level and the consolidation of an organisational tissue was to be prevented, its entire focus (and from the point of view of the rulers it was far better that this should be the case) was to be on parliamentary activity. Although Bismarck initially wanted to ban parliamentary activity as well, the other bourgeois factions in the Reichstag did not yield to Bismarck's insistence. The bourgeois parties' ultimate aim was to fully integrate the SAPD into the parliamentary machinery. Mobilisation for the elections thus became a focal point of their activities at that time. Compared to the repressive measures in Russia under the tsar, the Socialist Law in Germany was far less brutal but much more insidious.

Even before the Socialist Law had been passed in the Reichstag, the Hamburg-based Central Election Committee, acting as the party executive, had announced to the police authorities that the party organisation would dissolve itself, contrary to Bebel's and Liebknecht's stand on this issue, and had also called on the local sections to dissolve themselves! The party leadership proposed "absolute legalism":

"Hold fast to the slogan that we often call out to you: ‘our enemies must perish from our legality’. ‘Be calm, refuse to be provoked.’" [20]

As Marx and Engels wrote in a 1879 circular, the "anticipatory obedience" of the party executive was no anomaly:

"The party, under the pressure of the Socialist Law, shows right now that it is not willing to follow the path of violent, bloody revolution, but is determined ... to follow the path of legality, i.e. reform."[21]

Marx and Engels opposed this, in ironic terms:

In order to take away the last trace of fear from the bourgeoisie, it must be clearly and concisely proved to it that the spectre is really only a spectre, that it does not exist. But what is the secret of the red spectre, if not the bourgeoisie's fear of the inevitable life and death struggle between it and the proletariat? (...) It is the representatives of the petty bourgeoisie who are registering, full of fear that the proletariat, pushed through its revolutionary situation, may ‘go too far’. (...) All historically necessary conflicts are reinterpreted into misunderstandings, and all discussions end with the affirmation: in the main we are all in agreement. "

"The Social Democratic Party is NOT to be a workers' party, is not to incur the odium of the bourgeoisie or anyone else; it should above all conduct energetic propaganda among the bourgeoisie; instead of laying stress on far-reaching aims which frighten away the bourgeoisie and after all are not attainable in our generation, it should rather devote its whole strength and energy to those petty-bourgeois patchwork reforms which, by providing the old order of society with new props, may perhaps transform the ultimate catastrophe into a gradual, piecemeal and as far as possible peaceful process of dissolution.[22]

At the same time, some voices in the SAPD articulated the need for violent reactions. Johannes Most advocated individual terror, which was rejected at the first congress of the SAPD in Wyden, Switzerland, in 1880.

The fight against spies and calumnies

The party continued the tradition developed since the Communist League, of resolutely resisting slander because it undermined confidence within the party. Thus, in 1882, the illegal organisation of the Berlin Social Democrats decided in their statutes:

Point 13: Every militant – even if he is a well-known comrade – has the duty to maintain confidentiality about the topics discussed in the organisation – no matter which topics are discussed. If a comrade hears from another comrade an accusation being made, he has the duty to maintain confidentiality in a first phase and he must demand this from the comrade who informed him about it; he has to ask for the reasons of the accusation and find out who spread it. He has to inform the secretary [of the local section], who has to take appropriate steps and who has to clarify the issue at a meeting with the presence of the accuser and the accused. If the person under accusation is the secretary, the information must be given to his deputy. Any other step such as in particular spreading suspicion without any proven reason and without being testified by the secretaries, will provoke a lot of damage. Since the police notoriously have an interest in promoting disunity in our ranks through spreading denigrations, any comrade who does not stick to the procedure described above runs the risk of being considered as a person who works on behalf of the police. “[23]

At the party congress in Wyden, a "resolution on the exclusion of Wilhelm Hasselmann from the party" was passed:

"After the Congress had been enlightened about Hasselmann's intrigues and unscrupulous conduct, it fully approved Hasselmann's exclusion proclaimed by the deputies and warned all foreign comrades to recognise that this personality has been exposed as a notorious slanderer”.

At the same Congress a "Resolution on the Exclusion of Johannes Most from the Party" was passed:

"Considering that Johann Most had for a long time acted against the principles of the party which he himself still defended under the Socialist Law and [since then] only followed the influences of his frequently changing mood;

in further consideration that Most became the spreader of any slander raised against the German Social Democracy, no matter which side it came from, and that he promoted notorious police agents in spite of warnings about them, only because they insulted the so-called party leaders;

- Finally, considering that Most has committed acts contrary to all laws of honesty,

The Congress declares that it rejects any solidarity with Johann Most and regards him as having left the Socialist Workers’ Party of Germany". [24]

Thanks to the network established by the members of the party, the party was able to expand its influence on the ground for a dozen years and also learned to organise material and political solidarity for the persecuted. In short, the harsh conditions of illegality did not discourage the party members, but rather strengthened solidarity among them.

Functioning under illegality

The remaining party bodies spoke out against a national secret organisation because it could be too easily dismantled by the police and the party would then be completely incapable of action. In fact, a combination of illegal and legal work (mainly in parliament) was used. In Germany itself, they organised the

 "publication of the illegal newspaper Der Sozialdemokrat, which was produced abroad and distributed in the Reich via a conspiratorial distribution network (including Red Field Mail). The legal and illegal activity had to be led by a secret official body called ‘Corpora', (inner circle or organisation). It was formally separated from the distribution apparatus of the Sozialdemokrat for security reasons. With the help of this factually illegal organisation, in which J. Motteler played a prominent role, the cohesion of the party was further made possible at grass root level. Informers were exposed in the newspaper Sozialdemokrat. Under the camouflage name ‘The Iron Mask’, the party's security service warned against informers and provocateurs (cf. Fricke, p. 182). 

On the one hand, this prevented the slide into a conspiratorial society, and on the other hand, an illegally functioning apparatus could be set up. Party meetings took place under the guise of singing clubs and smoking clubs.[25]

At the first party congress since illegality in Wyden, Switzerland, in 1880, the previous wording that the party wanted to achieve its goals by "all legal means" was deleted from the text because the party did not want its hands tied to legality.

The need for local members to have sufficient leeway for their own initiatives and to be in contact with each other via a network of confidants was discussed at the Wydner Congress.

We cannot act according to a template, we cannot always consult the so-called ‘leaders’ in every single case, but neither should an individual act on his own. Joint consultation is necessary, no matter what form it takes, and joint action with the whole on important issues. This must be our guideline for all our actions.

So, organise yourselves, no matter how. The larger, better situated and more spiritually powerful places must support the smaller ones around them, and [since] the comrades cannot do this in greater numbers, the representatives from the different sections must often enter into oral exchange with each other. "[26]

Since the party was still allowed to nominate candidates for the Reichstag elections, "electoral associations" were founded in each constituency, which had the task of "theoretically forming the comrades and turning them into well-formed socialists. The administration of the party's affairs and the execution of its public agitation were still to provide the 'inner movement'”,[27] i.e. despite the legal meetings in electoral clubs for propaganda purposes, the party maintained the 'inner organisation', its underground organisational tissue. This was crucial for their survival.

However, this complementary "interplay" between centralisation and sufficient local initiative was later theorised and presented as a basic argument against centralisation.

At the Wydner Congress, the "official party leadership ... was transferred to the current Reichstag deputies."[28] However, the transfer of party leadership to parliamentarians on the basis of their immunity would turn out to be a trap, because a revolutionary party must not regard a parliamentary fraction as a "natural leadership“. Lenin later warned that parliamentary fractions "have certain traces of the influence of the general bourgeois electoral conditions."[29] Thus, this measure of transferring leadership into the hands of parliamentarians further contributed to not placing the emphasis on the initiative at the party grass root level, but very strongly focusing on parliamentary activities.

The actual party leadership, which centralised the illegal work, was de facto in the hands of a subcommittee of five people. However, due to great geographical dispersion, comrades were rarely able to meet and there were always major communication problems. In fact, Bebel (i.e. the most prominent leader) played a central role in the leadership of the party.

After the Copenhagen Congress of 1883, the official central organ of the SAPD still declared: "We are a revolutionary party, our goal is a revolutionary one, and we have no illusions about its parliamentary implementation.[30] But opportunist impulses were unmistakably felt at the Copenhagen Congress. The Sozialdemokrat went on to write about the incalculable divergences at the Congress:

"We have no reason to hide the fact that on some issues the opinions of our comrades diverge, for it is precisely a sign of the strength of our party that it nevertheless stands out externally as a united whole. As hard as the spirits burst into each other as openly and unreservedly one expressed one another's opinion, on the other hand the general aspiration clearly emerged: not finding a majority, but confrontation and understanding. Not by cliques that rivalled each other, but by comrades who disagreed on one question and agreed on the other, uninfluenced by personal relationships. And this lively exchange of views on the various questions of tactics, etc., showed that our party is in no way exposed to the danger of ossification, that there is no papacy and no orthodoxy in it, but that within the principles laid down in our programme it has room for every honestly fought conviction”. (ibid.)

But the willingness to discuss divergences within the shared programmatic framework was quickly questioned.

While on the one hand the party did not allow itself to be too fixated on the repression under the Socialist Law, on the other hand fears of a continuing illegality of the party arose more and more, especially among the members of the Reichstag who were legally active in the Reichstag. And there was a tendency for the Reichstag fraction to become autonomous and for an opportunist development to take place in its ranks. There was a growing gap between parliamentarians and the "grass roots". Already in 1883, i.e. a few years after the beginning of the Socialist Law, Bebel wrote to Engels: "And there is no doubt that among our parliamentarians there are especially people who, because they do not believe in the level of  revolutionary development, are inclined to parliamentarism and are very reluctant to take any sharp action."[31] A little later Bebel wrote to W. Liebknecht: "More than ever the thought of abandoning parliamentarianism comes to my mind, it is a good school for sinking into the political mire. We will see enough of this in our own friends."[32] In 1885 Bebel, the longest serving and most resolute SAPD member of the Reichstag, also warned:

"The Reichstag mandate satisfies their ambition and vanity, they see themselves with great self-satisfaction among the elect of the ‘nation’. They develop a taste for parliamentary comedy while taking themselves very seriously. Moreover, most of them no longer study or have gone astray with their studies, they are also alienated from practical life and do not know what it looks like... "[33] Engels spoke of an attempt by the opportunists "to constitute the petty bourgeois element as the ruling, official one in the party and to push back the proletarian to a merely tolerated one. "[34]

Opportunism in parliamentary garb

On March 20, 1885, the Social Democratic Parliamentary Group of the Reichstag published a statement against the criticism of the parliamentary group by the SAPD newspaper Sozialdemokrat:

"In recent times, especially in the month of January of this year, several open and hidden attacks against the Social Democratic Parliamentary Group of the German Reichstag could be read in Sozialdemokrat. They referred in particular to the behaviour of the Social Democratic members of the Reichstag on the issue of the steamship subsidy. (....) It is not the paper which determines the position of the parliamentary group, but the parliamentary group which has to control the position of the paper. "[35] [36] 

Bebel protested: "Through this statement the parliamentary group raises itself to absolute ruler over the position of the party organ. Der Sozialdemokrat is then no longer a party organ, but a parliamentary organ, and the party comrades are forbidden to express any opinion which is unpleasant or uncomfortable for the fraction, and the freedom of the press which the programme demands for all is an empty phrase for their own party comrades "[37] 

And further protest letters were also written from various cities in Germany. For example, the Social Democrats' protest letter in Frankfurt/Main in April 1885:

…the Socialist Law is actually beginning to have an educational effect; our deputies have already become very tame. (...) We comrades of Frankfurt (Main) see in this declaration of the parliamentary group an attempt at dictatorial reprimand, an attempt by the majority of the parliamentary group to introduce a kind of exceptional law into our inner party life (...) We can see from the tone of this ukase that the noble democratic self-confidence of the majority of the parliamentary group has given way to a reprehensible arrogance which is expressed in the term ‘storm of indignation’ (...). We do not need to explain that we do not grant any special (aristocratic) rights to the members of the parliamentary group... We declare that we will continue to subject the behaviour of our deputies to public scrutiny or criticism at the party congress, that we will continue to fight out differences of opinion in the public arena and that we will not allow ourselves to be reduced to unwilling bearers of ideas."[38] From Wuppertal Barmen came a similar letter of protest from the Social Democrats on 18.5.1885: “We are not among those who, having sent our representatives to parliament in greater numbers than ever before, expected miracles from the parliamentary activity of the same, we know very well that the emancipation of the workers is not fought out in the parliaments”. [39]

The SAPD deputy Wilhelm Blos rejected any revolutionary attitude of the Sozialdemokrat. As a result, electors from Wuppertal Barmen wrote the following statement:

1. If Mr. Blos claims that his voters had sent him to Berlin to participate in the legislation and to influence it in the sense of the Social Democratic program, we cannot see this view as correct. We believe that it is contrary to the party's position to call ‘parliament’ the main reason or even the only cause of electoral activity. For our part, we have voted:

a) Out of agitational and propagandistic considerations;

b) To protest loudly against today's class rule through our votes;

c) To enable our representatives, if necessary, to express this protest decisively in parliamentary speeches.[40]

The confrontations shown here made it clear that during these years two wings clashed, leading Engels to the insight that the division of the party could arise. In May 1882, Engels wrote to Bebel:

I have long since had no illusions that one day the bourgeois elements of the party would come into conflict and that there would be a divorce between right and left wing, and in the handwritten essay on the yearbook article, I even expressed this as highly desirable. (...) I did not explicitly mention the point in my last letter, because it seems to me that there is no hurry with this split. (…)

On the other hand, they know that under the rule of the Socialist Law we also have our reasons for avoiding internal divisions that we cannot debate publicly”.[41] 

But even under the conditions of the Socialist Law, he did not consider the necessity of a split to be excluded. For only a few months later he took up the same question: “The controversial question is purely a matter of principle: should the struggle be conducted as a class struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie, or should it be allowed to drop the class character of the movement and the programme … wherever one can get more votes, more 'followers'? (...) Unification is quite good as long as it possible, but there are things that stand above unification.[42]

I would consider any split under the Socialist Law to be a misfortune, since any means of communication with the masses is cut off. But it can be imposed on us, and then you have to face the facts.” [43]

And he placed the same emphasis on an aggravation of opposites, and that you shouldn't shy away from division at the right time: “The division into the proletarian and the bourgeois camps is becoming more and more pronounced, and once the bourgeois have exerted themselves to outvote the proletarians, the rupture can be provoked. This possibility must, I believe, be kept in mind. If they provoke the rupture - which they would have to drink themselves some courage for - it's not so bad. I always take the view that as long as the Socialist Law exists, we should not provoke it; but if it does, then we have to go with it and then I'll be in your side.[44]

Even under the harsh conditions of illegality, Social Democracy at the time sought not to isolate itself internationally. Because the reorganisation of political groups and parties in Europe gathered pace during the 1880s, German Social Democracy became a pioneer of international contacts and the preparation of a new International.

“In order to establish a regular connection between the socialists and socialist associations abroad among themselves and with the party in Germany, and to maintain communication between the latter and the brother parties abroad, a communication centre outside Germany is created, which has to organise exchanges between the individual associations, receive all complaints, applications, etc., and deal with them in an appropriate manner.” [45]

Despite the Socialist Law, the rulers did not succeed in smashing the party or suppressing its influence. On the contrary, in 1878, the year the Socialist Law was introduced, the SAPD received: 437,000 votes (7.6%), 2 deputies after the main election, 9 after the run-off election; 1890: 1,427,000 votes, i.e. 19.7% of the votes, 20 deputies in the main election and 35 after the run-off election.[46] The great electoral successes thus reflected the support for the SAPD. But at the same time they not only increased the weight of the Reichstag deputies within the party, but also the overall parliamentary orientation and the democratic ideology which grew with it.

Chapter 3, 1890/1

The end of the Anti-Socialist Law and the new programme and statutes at Halle and Erfurt

In September 1890, the Socialist Law was lifted. The SAPD was renamed SPD at the Halle party conference shortly thereafter.

Due to the conditions of the Anti- Socialist Law, the debates about the programme could only take place to an extremely limited extent. Now, with the end of the law, at the party conference in Halle 1890 and especially in Erfurt 1891, the programme question was put as a central point on the agenda. After extensive discussions with more than 400 meetings and a multitude of articles and discussion contributions in the SPD press, it was planned to make important corrections to the Gotha programme. In our series of articles in IR 84-88 we have dealt extensively with the debates and criticisms of the positions of the Erfurt programme, therefore we continue to concentrate here on the organisational question.

In 1891 Marx and Engels' critique of the Gotha programme was published for the first time and widely discussed. The party leadership active at the time of Gotha, which at that time had withheld the criticisms of Marx and Engels from the party, agreed to these criticisms in 1891 at the Erfurt Congress. Thus, the specifically Lasallean and vulgar-socialist views of the Gotha programme were overcome.

At the Halle and Erfurt Congresses, the views of the oppositional, anarchistic group “Die Jungen” (the Young), which appeared for the first time, were also discussed and rejected.

The Statutes - a mirror reflecting organisational principles

The statutes regulated membership as follows: point 1 “Any person shall be considered as member of the party who agrees with the principles of the Party Programme and supports the Party to the best of his or her ability”.[47] Members were thus required only to adhere to the principles of the Party Programme and not to the details of the Party Programme itself. For people like Ignaz Auer[48], this was an occasion to speak out against "narrow-mindedness" at the level of the programme, because “some may have objections to this or that particular point and a slight deviation of any kind is not harmful”. According to Auer this was intended to give members scope for their own interpretation of the party's programme.

According to the situation of the association legislation in all larger German states, the party conference in Halle had to refrain from the creation of a centralised organisation. Any attempt to establish an association existing in the whole of Germany, with local memberships, representatives, regular dues, membership cards, etc., would only result in the dissolution of the party in the shortest possible time for violation of the provisions of any paragraph of the Vereinsgesetz. (...) Since political associations are not allowed to communicate with each other in most of Germany, no correspondence or other connection may take place between the local associations and the party leadership. (...) Now, however, the party leadership (...) must have connections everywhere (...). This task should be fulfilled by the confidants (hommes de confiance) (...). These confidants should primarily be the correspondents to whom the party leadership addresses its communications and who in turn inform the party leadership about what is going on in the individual towns and constituencies”.[49]

The opposition group of Die Jungen, which appeared for the first time, advocated a loose concept of party membership. They spoke out against a firmly established party organisation and pleaded for a loose, non-binding form of organisation. According to them, a general verbal commitment to the SPD or voting for an SPD candidate was sufficient to claim to be a social democrat.

In Bebel's draft of the statutes for the party conference in Halle, the party conference formed the "highest representation of the party". Bebel emphasized concrete, firm rules of conduct that were binding for all members of the party. This emphasis on binding rules of conduct was groundbreaking for the later debate at the 2nd Party Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Workers' Party in 1903 (see the article in International Review 116 1903-4: the birth of Bolshevism..).

The relationship between the Reichstag fraction and the party as a whole was also discussed for the first time at the Halle Party Congress. After the end of the Anti-Socialist Law Bebel wanted to transfer the party leadership from the Reichstag fraction to the party congress and the party executive elected by it as the decisive authority. The party executive should be accountable to the party congress, and the Reichstag fraction should thus be deprived of its special rights. Resistance arose on the part of the parliamentarians. It was also planned at the congress in Halle that the party executive elected by the congress should control the party organ Vorwärts. Ignaz Auer continued to insist on special rights for the Reichstag fraction: the fraction should be given the right of supervision and control over the party executive and thus over the entire party activity, which meant the fraction was placed over the party executive elected by the party congress. According to Auers' point of view the statutes should require the submission of the party to the members of parliament. Georg v. Vollmar, a member of parliament, demanded in the debate on the organisational question at the Halle Congress that “each local section should decide independently on its own organisational form, that splitting the organisation into autonomous sub-organisations was also a good protection against possible further repression."[50] At the same time Auer rejected the programmatic principles of the party. Here one could feel the theorisation of hostility to centralisation and the desire to subordinate the party and its central organ to the parliamentary fraction.

Bebel himself described the draft he submitted to Engels as a "compromise work".[51] Bebel later admitted, in view of the resistance of the parliamentarians: “I let myself be persuaded and gave in for the sake of peace”. A short time later, Bebel confessed to Victor Adler: “I once again recognised how much damage is created when one gives in to the move to the right.[52] Finally, though, the party adopted a statute in which the party executive took over the party leadership. With the recognition that the party congress was the highest representation of the party, with the binding nature of the documents and resolutions adopted by the party congress, with the accountability of the party executive to the party congress, with the recognition of the newspaper Vorwärts as a central organ, the principles for the functioning of the party according to the "party spirit" were laid down. Lenin was later able to rely on these party principles in 1903.

Given the great weaknesses of the 1875 Gotha programme, the 1891 Erfurt programme was a step forward. The reformist Lassallean ideas still present in the Gotha programme had been overcome; a scientific framework was put forward, insisting that capitalism was still doomed to failure because of its contradictions, and that the working class could bring about the only possible solution through the conquest of political power: the overthrow of this society. Nevertheless, there was a crucial shortcoming in this programme: there was no talk of the necessary dictatorship of the proletariat in overturning capitalism. Engels had criticised the political demands of the draft in the debate on the draft programme. He took the opportunity “to give a bashing to the ‘peaceful opportunism’ ... and the fresh, pious, cheerful and free 'growing into' of the old mess socialist society.”[53] In the final version, however, nothing substantial was changed in the political demands Engels had criticised; in fact, his critique was suppressed and only published 10 years later.[54] 

Engels’ warning against reformist illusions ...

Influenced by the hope for a "repression-free life in democracy"[55] and a hope in some circles already noticeable in 1890-91 for society to grow into socialism, Engels warned: “Out of fear of a renewal of the Socialist Law, out of remembrance of all sorts of premature statements made under the rule of that Law, the present legal situation in Germany should suddenly be able to satisfy the party's demands peacefully. One fools oneself and the Party by claiming that ‘today's society is growing into socialism’” ... [56]

But while Engels rightly warned of the danger of opportunist hopes, he himself fell into a certain euphoria which Rosa Luxemburg later picked up at the founding congress of the KPD. (see IR 88 The German Revolution: The Failure to Build the Organisation

... overcome temporarily by euphoria

In the years since the Socialist Law, the SPD had increased its votes in the elections by more than 20%. This caused euphoria and illusions about a corresponding increase in the power of the working class. As early as 1884, after the SAPD had won half a million votes, Engels told Kautsky in a letter:

For the first time in history, a solidly united workers’ party stands there as a real political power, developed and grown under the toughest persecutions, inexorably conquering one post after another (...),,inexorably working its way up (so) that the equation of its growing speed and thus the time of its final victory can already be mathematically calculated now [1884].” [57] And in the autumn of 1891 Engels wrote: “Eleven years of Reichsacht [the Anti-Socialist law] and siege have quadrupled their strength and made them the strongest party in Germany. (...) The Social Democratic Party, which managed to topple a figure [as powerful] as Bismarck, which after eleven years of struggle broke the Anti-Socialist Law, the Party, which like the rising tide overflows all dams, which pours over state and land, penetrating into the most reactionary agricultural districts, this party today is about to reach the point where it can determine with almost mathematically exact calculation the time in which it will come to power.

(...) In the elections of 1895 we can thus count on at least 2.5 million votes; but these would increase around 1900 to 3.5 to 4 million. (...) The main strength of German Social Democracy, however, lies by no means in the number of its voters. You only have voting rights at the age of 25 years, but you can already be conscripted at the age of 20 years. And since it is precisely the young generation that supplies our party with its most numerous recruits, it follows that the German army is increasingly infected by socialism. Today we have one soldier in five, in a few years we will have one in three, and around 1900 the army, formerly the Prussian element of the country, will be socialist in its majority. We are moving closer and closer to this situation, almost inevitably like the ‘hour of destiny’. The Berlin government sees it coming, as well as we do, but it is powerless” [58]That the time is approaching where we are the majority in Germany, or yet the only party strong enough - if peace remains - to take the helm .”[59] And also in the last years before his death, for example in 1892, he said: “(...) the victory of the European working class [depends] not only on England. It can only be ensured by the cooperation of at least England, France and Germany. In the latter countries the workers' movement is well ahead of the English. In Germany it is even within a measurable reach of triumph.[60] In 1894 he even predicted that “we can (almost) calculate the day on which state power will fall into our hands”. [61]

This glorification of the election results is also made clear by the statement Bebel made at the Hamburg Party Congress in 1897:

“Reichstag elections have always been the most important event for us as a fighting party, because they give us the opportunity to stand up for our ideas and demands with all the necessary vigour, because we can see from the election result how the development of our party in the past period has been; they were and are the yardstick for us of how far the party has come on its advance to victory. From this point of view, we considered the elections in 1897 to be the best opportunity to measure our strength.”[62]

Before falling into this temporary euphoria, however, Engels had stressed before the Erfurt Congress that the SPD should continue along the revolutionary path and should not allow room for ideas about a 'lawful, peaceful' path of development towards socialism.

The necessity of a clear demarcation and, if necessary, separation from the opportunists

In view of the great divergences between Lassalleans and Eisenachers at the beginning of the 1870s, Marx and Engels had warned of the danger of the loss of programmatic clarity and insisted on a sharp demarcation. Again and again they emphasised: “(...) In our party we can use individuals from every social class, but not groups which stand for capitalist, middle-class or middle peasant interests”.[63] Even when, at the time of the Socialist Law, more and more people from different backgrounds, including the ruling class, were constantly joining Social Democracy, Engels insisted in a correspondence with Bebel and Liebknecht:

When such people from other classes join the proletarian movement, the first demand is that they do not use remnants of bourgeois, petty-bourgeois ideology, etc.. (...) If there are reasons to tolerate them [people with bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideas] for the time being [in a workers' party], there is an obligation only to tolerate them, not to allow them to influence the party leadership, to remain aware that the break with them is only a matter of time.”[64]

The proletariat would abandon its leading historical role (...) if it made concessions to these (petty-bourgeois and bourgeois) ideas and desires.”[65]

Therefore, Engels also considered the possibility that after the repeal of the Anti-Socialist Law there could be a split between the proletarian and petty-bourgeois wings in the party.

We owe all this mess largely to Liebknecht with his penchant for educated wiseacres and people in bourgeois positions, with which one can impress the Philistine. He cannot resist a literary man and a merchant who fancies socialism. But in Germany these are the most dangerous people (...). The split is sure to come, but I maintain that we should not fall into provocations and let it happen under the Anti-Socialist Law.”[66]

It was obvious that the approach of the state aimed at smashing and splitting the party, and that the party moving closer together was the main tendency in this phase. But determination in the face of repression does not automatically prevent opportunist tendencies. On the contrary, opportunism may even proliferate more without consciously and pratically being held in check. 

In 1890, shortly before the repeal of the Socialist Law, Engels also recognised:

The party is so large and big that absolute freedom of debate within it is a necessity. There is no other way that the many new elements that have joined us in the last three years and that in many areas are still quite green and raw, be integrated and that they assimilate and be ‘formed’ (...). The largest party in the Reich cannot exist without all the shades in it being fully expressed, and even the appearance of dictatorship à la Schweitzer must be avoided. "[67]

In order to build up a certain protection against unacceptable deviations, the leading party posts were to be filled with full-time functionaries paid by the party. However, this in turn did not offer any real protection against opportunism or even censorship by the party leadership. In order to be able to conduct the fight against opportunism and its representatives in the Reichstag faction more freely, Engels even said that the radical forces should have an independent press organ:

Your 'nationalisation' of the press becomes a great evil if it goes too far. You absolutely must have a press in the party which is not directly dependent on the executive committee and even the party congress, i.e. which is in a position to openly oppose individual steps of the party within the programme and the adopted tactics and also to freely subject the programme and tactics to criticism within the limits of the party statutes”.[68]

In a letter to Bebel, Engels not only warned him against the right-wing approach and its mouthpiece Vollmar, but he also made a number of tactical recommendations.[69]

The "Jungen"

The 1890 Halle Party Congress also saw the first open debate with the opposition group labelled by the bourgeois press as the "Jungen".[70] In fact, the only common denominator appears to have been their low average age.[71]

Their social composition was extremely heterogeneous. Politically, they were united above all by their warning of the dangers of parliamentarianism.

1.) The attitude of the Social Democrats in the Reichstag, which at times was likely to awaken the hope that the situation of the working class could already be significantly improved within capitalist society. 2.) The agitation in the last Reichstag elections, which often amounted more to winning seats in parliament than to forming social democrats. 3.) The fraction's advocacy of bourgeois candidates in the last run-off elections. 4.) The parliamentary group's approach to the question of 1 May.(...)[72]  6.) A certain way of comrades treating objective criticism as personal insults.[73]

But this political criticism of opportunist tendencies in the party became blurred and lost credibility because Bruno Wille insinuated "corruption" in the ranks of SPD parliamentarians and thus tended to pin the problem on individuals.

At a major SPD gathering in Berlin at the end of August 1890, in which more than 10,000 party members took part, Bebel confronted the criticisms of the SPD in a debate with some representatives of the “Jungen”. At the end of the debate, a resolution was passed in which of the approximately 4,000 counted participants (of the 10,000 participants only half could fit into the hall) about 300-400 voted against the resolution written by Bebel.

The assembly declares the assertion made by various sides that the Social Democratic Reichstag fraction was corrupt, that it intended to rape the party, and that it was anxious to suppress freedom of expression in the party press, as a grave insult to the fraction, or to the party leadership, which lacked all proof. The Assembly also declares unjustified the attacks directed against the parliamentary activity of the fraction to date.[74]

At the party conference in Erfurt, an investigation commission presented its findings on the accusations of some of the “Jungen”. However, the mandate of this commission had dealt with two tasks at the same time: with regard to the accusations of systematic corruption and the fact that party funds were given to parasites, the commission acquitted the accused of the charges.

At the same time, it rejected the political criticism expressed in an anonymous flyer distributed at the Halle party conference. The leaflet said: “We do not therefore accuse the leaders of dishonesty, however, but that they showed too much consideration for the powers that be, resulting from the changed position in life and the lack of contact with proletarian poverty, the heart beat of the people in agony”.[75]

The worst thing that the Socialist Law has brought us is corruption” (Wille referred above all to political behaviour and directed this accusation primarily against the party leadership).[76]

At the same time, the Jungen warned of the danger of the party decaying.[77]

The Commission countered this with its political findings: “1.) It is not true that the revolutionary spirit is systematically being killed by individual leaders. 2.) It is not true that a dictatorship is practiced in the party. 3.) It is not true that the whole movement has decayed and the Social Democracy has sunk down to a pure reform party of petty bourgeois direction. 4) It is not true that the revolution was solemnly sworn off at the tribune of the Reichstag. 5.) To this day, nothing has been done to justify the accusation that attempts were made to bring into harmony the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.[78]

Finally, some members of the Jungen who continued to uphold the accusation of corruption were expelled at the Erfurt party congress. Previously, other members had resigned from the party. After a rejected appeal against their exclusion, the opposition founded the "Association of Independent Socialists" (Verein Unabhängiger Sozialisten) on November 8, 1891, shortly after the Erfurt Party Congress (its organ became the Socialist, which appeared from 1891-1899). Engels said it spread "nothing but gossip and lies"[79]

This opposition, which emerged at the beginning of the 1890s, had shown a vague awareness of the increasing danger of the party's degeneration. But by putting the criticisms of the party's policies into the category of accusations of bribery against party leaders - without any concrete evidence - and thus personalising them - its well-founded warnings of the dangers of sinking into degeneration lost their impact and could be used by the opportunists. Previously, some representatives of the Jungen (Werner and Wille) had demanded that a central organ of the party (i.e. in the form of a newspaper) was not necessary at all. Some of them also spoke out against centralisation and only for loose structures, and they spoke out against binding membership criteria.

The founding appeal of the "Independent Socialists" stressed that the “organisational form of today's party [restricts] the movement of the proletarian social classes”. Instead, they advocated a “free organisation,” and argued that the purpose of the organisation was to be a “discussion and education association.[80]

The "Independent Socialists" split shortly after their founding - some returned to the SPD, others went over to the anarchists.

For the SPD, dealing with this heterogeneous group had been a twofold challenge. On the one hand, accusations at the level of behaviour, such as allegations of corruption, should not be left unchecked. And those who continued to uphold such accusations without any evidence should not be allowed to claim such things without any sanctions.

But at the same time, this was a test of the willingness of the party to deal with warnings of opportunism, which were inevitably confused and sometimes misleading, and were presented in a brawling manner, as Engels said. A policy of exclusion due to political divergence was not on the agenda. Before the Halle party conference, Engels spoke out against a policy of exclusion from the party:

I will probably see Bebel and Liebknecht here before the Congress and do what I can to convince them of the imprudence of all expulsions that are not based on striking evidence of the party's injurious actions, but merely on charges of endless opposition”.[81]

It is clear that you will be able to deal with the Jungen and their followers at the Congress. But make sure that no germs are laid for future difficulties. Do not make unnecessary martyrs, show that freedom of criticism prevails, and if someone has to be expelled then only in cases where quite blatant and fully provable facts (...) of wickedness and betrayal exist.”  [82]

After the Erfurt party congress Engels approved their exclusion, mainly because the Jungen had continued to spread unproven suspicions and accusations within the party. But shortly after the party had excluded them, he realized that people like Vollmar (representatives of the right) were "much more dangerous" than the Jungen.[83] A short time later he adopted a nuanced attitude. He described the attacks of the Jungen against the "petty-bourgeois elements" in the party as "priceless". [84]

Even Bebel recognised the positive role of the Jungen after the publication in the summer of 1892 of Hans Müller's Der Klassenkampf in der Sozialdemokratie (The Class Struggle in Social Democracy). “It's quite good in itself that there are a few ankle snappers who remind you to watch out that you don't stumble. If we didn't have this opposition, we'd have to make ourselves one. If you scold them at the next party conference, I'll sing their praises.” [85]


The battle that we have described between the revolutionary and opportunist tendencies in German Social Democracy became even more intense in the following period from 1890 to 1914. We will describe this exacerbated conflict in the second part of the article.



[4]Answer by Engels to the Lassaleans in Volksstaat, May 1873 - Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 18, pp. 319-325,  (All quotes from the MECW are translated from the German edition.)

[5] Engels to Bebel, 20.6.1873, MECW Vol 33, p590

[6]The Ist International was dissolved officially at the Philadelphia Conference on 15.07.1876.

[7] Engels to Conrad Schmidt, 12, April 1890, MECW Vol 37, p384.

[8] Marx wrote to Friedrich A. Sorge on 27.9.1873., "Given the conditions in Europe, it is my view that it  is quite useful to let the formal organisation of the Internationals move into the background for the time being and make sure, if possible, not to give up the central office in New York because of this, so that no idiots like Perret or adventurers like Cluseret seize the leadership and compromise the cause (...) For the time being, it is sufficient not to let the connection with the most capable comrades in the various countries slip completely out of our hands (...) (cf. MECW 33, p. 606). ("As I view European conditions it is quite useful to let the formal organisation of the International recede into the background for the time being.")

[9] In 1873, Austrian Social Democrats even elected the editorial staff of the German Volksstaat (People's State) as the arbitrator for disputes in the Austrian party (The International Working Class Movement, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1976, volume 2, 1871-1904, p. 261).

[10] Great Britain – the most militant workers were active only in the framework of the Trades Unions. The Social Democratic Federation was founded in 1884.

- France – the organisations which existed after the Paris Commune were purely professional ones and oriented towards the economic struggle alone. Only in 1878 the  Parti Ouvrier was founded with a view to the elections in France; it was led by Guesde and Lafargue and Marx participated directly by writing its political platform (see The International Working Class Movement, p . 237) In France there was an early split between the "Possibilistes" (reformist wing) and forces around Guesde – resulting in the foundation of the Federation d'ouvriers socialistes).

- Belgium: foundation of the Socialist Party 1879, - Belgian Workers Party 1885,

- Netherlands 1882: Social Democratic Union

- Switzerland: In Spring 1873 a general national workers’ congress was founded. In 1888  the Swiss Social Democratic Party was founded,

- Spain 1879 – Socialist Workers Party

- Portugal: 1875 Socialist Party of Portugal 

  - Italy: during the 1870s no party was founded, in 1881 the  Revolutionary Socialist Party was founded, which in 1883 was united with the "Partito Operaio".  In 1892- foundation of the Socialist Party in Genoa

- USA: Workingmen's Party of Illinois (1873) and Social-Democratic Workingmen's Party of North America (1874) (rooted in sections of the Ist International).

- Hungary:- the foundation of the Workers Party was announced in March 1873 but it was immediately declared illegal,

- 1883 Plekhanov, who due to repression had to live abroad, founded the first Russian Social-Democratic organisation, the Emancipation of Labour group.

Thus in the mid-1870s there were only workers’ organisations in a few European countries, to some extent in the US and in some other countries (see The International Working Class Movement, p. 205). However, the Gotha programme influenced the programmes of the other parties in the second half of the 1870s and early 1880s, for example that of the Danish League of Social-democrats, founded in 1876 as well as the Flemish Socialist Party 1877,  the Portuguese Socialist Party 1877, the  Czechoslovak Social-democratic Party 1878, the  Social-democratic League of the Netherlands 1882, the General Workers’ Party of Hungary 1880.

[11]   Mehring, Geschichte der deutschen Sozialdemokratie,  p451

[12]   Marx to Wilhelm Bracke, 5.5.1875, MECW vol 19, p13

[13]  In his letter of October 12, 1875 to Bebel, Engels emphasized that the Gotha programme was composed of the following unmarxist main ideas:

1)“The Lassallean sentences and keywords which have been included remain a disgrace to our party," such as the ideas of "a reactionary mass" outside the working class, of the "iron  law of wages of "state aid for productive cooperatives," etc. According to Engels, this was "the Caudin yoke under which our party crawled through for the greater glory of holy Lassalle”.

2) vulgar-democratic demands, such as the slogan of the "free state," which supposedly rises above classes;

3) "demands on the 'present' state which are very confused and illogical",

4. general sentences, "mostly borrowed from the Communist Manifesto and the Statutes of the International but rewritten to contain either total falsehood or pure nonsense. (...) The whole thing is in the highest degree untidy, confused, incoherent, illogical and embarrassing" (MECW Vol. 34, p. 158).

[14] Engels to Bracke, MECW Vol 34, p 155

[15] "Secondly, the principle of the international nature of the workers' movement is practically completely denied for the present, despite the fact that this principle has been defended in the most glorious way for five years and under the most difficult circumstances. The position of the German workers’ movement at the head of the European movement is essentially based on its genuinely international attitude during the war". Engels' letter to Bebel, MECW vol 19, p 4, 18/28. 3. 1875.

[16] Mehring, ibid, Vol 2, pp 449-450.

[17] Mehring, ibid, Vol 2, p 453.

[18] Mehring, ibid, Vol 2, p 419.

[19] Mehring, ibid, Vol 2 p516

[20] Statement by Höchberg, Eduard Bernstein and Schramm. They wrote "Reviews of the Socialist Movement in Germany," rejecting the revolutionary character of the party and demanding the transformation of the SAPD into a petty-bourgeois democratic reform party. (Documents and Materials, III, p. 119).  Out of fear of further repression, the party wing around Eduard Bernstein spoke out in favour of transforming the SAPD into a legalist reform party, thus rendering the ban obsolete.

[21]Marx/Engels, Circular to Bebel, Liebknecht, Bracke and others, 17/18 9.1875, MECW, Vol 34, p. 394-408

[22] Marx and Engels to Bebel, Liebknecht, Bracke and others, Circular Letter, MECW Vol 17 (18th September 1879) (in The International Working Class Movement Vol 2, p. 235).

[23] Dieter Fricke, On the History of the German Workers‘ Movement 1869-1917,p204).

[24]  Documents Vol III, p. 148

[25] In view of the danger that an overly centralised illegal organisational structure could be disrupted too quickly if the police were to strike, Engels also argued that "the looser the organisation appears to be, the stronger it is in reality". Engels to J. Ph. Becker, 1.4.1880, MECW vol. 34, p. 441.

[26]Aufruf der Parteivertretung der Sozialistischen Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands vom 18.09.1880 über die Aufgaben nach dem Wydener Kongress“(Documents), vol III, p 153)

[27] Fricke, ibid, p. 211.

[28] "Resolution on the Organisation of the Party."

"1. The official party representation is transferred to the current Reichstag deputies.

2. In the event that next year's Reichstag elections result in a substantial change of person among the deputies, the departing and newly elected deputies shall agree on who is to continue activities, with the involvement of trusted third parties. The distribution of activities is a matter for the Members of Parliament…

(5) “The organisation of the individual places is left to the discretion of the comrades living there, but Congress declares it as the duty of the comrades to ensure the best possible connections everywhere".

[29] Lenin, About two letters”, Collected Works, Vol 15, p 291.

[30] Der Sozialdemokrat, 12.4.1883. in Documents

[31] Bebel, Ausgewählte Reden und Schriften, vol 2/2 p 106F, Fricke, p 193, 

[32] Dirk H. Müller, Idealismus und Revolution, p 15

[33] Letter from Bebel to Liebknecht 26.7.1885, International Institute for Social History , Amsterdam, Nachlass Liebknecht, pp. 108/111, Fricke, p 276,

[34] Engels to Bebel, 4.8.1885, MECW Vol.36, p 292.

[35] The Social Democratic Group of the German Reichstag, Der Sozialdemokrat, No. 14, 2.4.1885, in Documents Vol. III, p. 223.

[36]The question of the "steamship subsidy" revealed the will of some members of parliament to support the subsidies demanded by the government in the scramble against the other states to conquer the planet for German maritime transport.

[37] Bebel's protest letter of 5.4.1885 to the Social Democratic Reichstag fraction against their declaration, IISG Amsterdam, NL Bebel, No. 42, in Documente und Materials, MECW, vol. 3, p. 226

[38]Documents, Vol 3, p. 229 

[39] ibid, p. 231

[40]ibid, vol III, p 177, 2. 2.1892, Der Sozialdemokrat.

[41] Engels to Bebel, 21.6.1882, MECW Vol 35, p 225,

[42] Engels to Bebel, 28.10.1882, MECW Vol 35, p. 383

[43] Engels to Bebel, 10/11. May 1883, MECW, Vol 36, p. 27

[44] Engels to Bebel, MECW, Vol 36, 11.10.1884, p 215

[45] “Resolution über die Errichtung einer internationalen Verkehrsstelle unter den Sozialisten”, Documents, Vol 3, p 149,

[46] Fricke, ibid,.

[47] The principle that party members should pay membership dues was not explicitly mentioned here in order to avoid punitive measures under the Association Act.

[48] Ignaz Auer became well known later for expressing the quintessence of opportunism when he remarked to Eduard Bernstein: "What you call for, my dear Ede, is something which one neither admits openly nor puts to a formal vote; one simply gets on with it."

[49] The Party Executive Committee, "Circular No. 1 of the Party Executive Committee of the SPD of October 1890 on Party Construction", Documents vol 3, p. 348.

[50] Protocols of the Negotiations of the Party Congresses of the Social Democratic Party of Germany Halle 1890 and Erfurt 1891, Leipzig 1983, - Foreword to Halle  Party Congress p. 32

[51] Letter from Bebel to Engels, 27.8.1890, Bebels ibid, p 365

[52] from Foreword on the Protocols. 29, Original quote Bebel: Letter to Victor Adler, 5.9.1890, in Selected Speeches and Writings, vol. 2/2, p. 371

[53] Engels, MECW 22, p 594

[54] We have dealt with these weaknesses in detail in several articles, see among others the articles from IR 84 and 85 mentioned above?

[55] Time and again there were targeted repressive measures. In 1895, for example, the police president of Berlin banned the party executive of Berlin (i.e. it was dissolved, but not the party at the local or national level). Once again, the leadership of the party was transferred to the Reichstag fraction. Such steps by the police scared those who were "sitting on the sofa of democracy" and were about to lose their fighting spirit.

[56] Zur Kritik des sozialdemokratischen Programmstwurfs 1891, MECW, vol. 22, p. 234. Engels Kritik was published by the leadership of the SPD only 10 years later. The circumstances are not exactly clarified. In a preliminary remark, the SPD leadership pointed out that Engels’ manuscript had been found in the archives of W. Liebknecht, who died in 1900.  MECW vol. 22, p. 595.

[57] Engels to Kautsky, 8.11.1884, MECW Vol 36, p. 230

[58] in Der Sozialismus in Deutschland MECW, Vol 22, p 250.

[59] Engels to Bebel, 29.9.1891, MECW  38, p 163,

[60] Engels, Einleitung zur englischen Ausgabe der “Entwicklung des Sozialismus“, 1892, MECW 22, p 311

[61] Engels to Pablo Iglesias, 26.3.1894, MECW, vol. 39, p. 229. Even if he relativised this kind of statement by the restriction that developments could very well put everything into question e.g. by a European war with terrible, world-wide consequences, one sees the influence of this increase in votes on Engels as well. (see e.g. Engels to Bebel, 24-26. 10. 1891, MECW Vol 38, p. 189)

[62] Hamburger Parteitag 1897, Protocols p 123.

[63] Hamburger Parteitag 1897, Protocols p 123.

[64] Engels, The Peasant Question in France and Germany, MECW, vol. 22, p. 493.

[65] Engels to Bebel, Liebknecht and others, mid-September 1879, MECW Vol 34, p 394-408

[66] Engels to Bebel, 24.11.1879,

[67] Engels to Sorge, 9.8.1980, MECW Vol 37, p 440

[68] Engels to Bebel, 19.10.1892,

[69]We will probably have to break with him [Vollmar] this year or next; he seems to want to force the party's state-socialism on us. But since he is a cunning intriguer, and since I have all sorts of experience in struggles with these kinds of people - M[arx] and I have often made a bloomer in tactics against these kinds of people and have had to pay the appropriate price - I am free to give you a few hints here.
  Above all, these people are trying to formally show us wrong, and that must be avoided. Otherwise, they hammer this secondary issue in order to obscure the main point whose weakness they feel. So be careful in
the expressions, public as well as private. You see how skillfully the guy uses your utterance about Liebknecht to create a row between him, Liebknecht and you - (...) and thus you find yourselves torn between the two.  Secondly, since it is important for them to blur the main question, one must prevent any occasion to do so; all secondary issues that stir them up must be dealt with as briefly and as convincingly as possible, so that they are clarified once and for all, but one must avoid as far as possible any secondary issue that might arise, despite all temptation. Otherwise, the focus of the debate will become more and more extensive, and the original point of contention will disappear more and more from the focus. And then no decisive victory is possible, and that is already a sufficient success for the petty manipulator and at least a moral defeat for us." Engels to Bebel, 23.7.1892, MECW vol. 38, p. 407.

[70]One year later, at the Erfurt party congress, almost a dozen of the 250 delegates belonged to this opposition.

[71] Four of these delegates were about 30 years old, one 23, and  all of them had only been in the party for 2-3 years One (Bruno Wille) did not even belong to it. They were either students, lived freelance or, as in the case of Wille, earned a living as paid touring speakers.

[72] The party executive and the parliamentary group opposed a strike scheduled for 1 May.

[73] Dirk H. Müller, Idealism and Revolution, Zur Opposition der Jungen gegen den Sozialdemokratischen Parteivorstand, p. 60, contribution by H. Müller, der Klassenkampf..., p. 88 and SD, no. 35 of 30 August 1890.

[74]  Müller, ibid, p 64,

[75]  Müller, ibid p 89

[76]  Müller, ibid, p 52

[77]  (...) “The party's tactics are totally wrong. 9.) Socialism and democracy have nothing in common with the speeches of our Members. (…) 12.)  Talking about today's society growing into the socialist state is nonsense. Those who say this are themselves far worse than political hotheads.” (“The accusations of the Berlin opposition”, p. 24 in the original, in D. H. Müller, p. 94).

[78]  Erfurter Parteitagsprotokoll, p 318,

[79] Engels to Sorge, 21.11.1891), MECW Vol 38, p 228

[80] The proportion of workers on the board was negligibly small; there were more "writers", small businessmen than workers, Müller, ibid pp. 130 and 133

[81] Engels to F.A. Sorge, 9.8.1890, MECW Vol 37., p 440

[82] Engels to Liebknecht, 10.8.1890, MECW Vol 37, p 445 , see also Engels to Laura Lafargue, 27.10. 1890,  MECW 38, S 193 

[83] Engels to F. A. Sorge, "...Mr Vollmar (...) is much more dangerous than that, he is smarter and more persevering (...) 24.10.1891, MECW vol. 38, p. 183

[84] Engels to Victor Adler, 30.8.1892, MECW 38, p. 444 - "...but what kind of bourgeois elements are there in the parliamentary fraction and are always re-elected? A workers' party has only the choice between workers who are immediately reprimanded and then easily lumped as party pensioners, or bourgeois who feed themselves but embarrass the party. And vis- a-vis these forces the Independents are priceless." 

[85] Bebels to Engels, 12.10.1892,, Bebels-Engels p 603 (Müller, ibid p 126).


History of the workers' movement