Source: Socialist Spirit
Source type: magazine
Document type: editorial
Document title: “Bismarck’s Opportunity”
Date of publication: October 1901
Volume number: 1
Issue number: 2
|“Bismarck’s Opportunity.” Socialist Spirit Oct. 1901 v1n2: pp. 4-5.|
|McKinley assassination (personal response: socialists); anarchism (compared with socialism); socialism (international response); socialism (government response).|
|Otto von Bismarck; Leon Czolgosz; Emil Hoedel; Ferdinand Lassalle; Karl Nobiling; William I.|
|The “example” (see opening sentence below) that this editorial serves as is in response to a point raised in the closing paragraph of the magazine’s preceding editorial. Click here to see the preceding editorial.|
For example, there can be in this country no such subversion, or even temporary
eclipse of the socialist movement as was effected by Bismarck during the last
century: an eclipse the futility of which he himself lived to grudgingly acknowledge.
General education in America will prevent the politicians from leading the people
on any far cry against a stalking-horse. The attempts to saddle the crime of
Czolgosz on the socialist movement, and the tiresomely old and resourceless
efforts to confuse socialism with anarchism have been laughed out of court during
the past three weeks by the American people. It is foolish to play hide and
seek under an electric light. Germany has furnished us too striking a spectacle
of official idiocy for  our persons sitting
in darkness to follow her.
Emperor William I. of Germany suffered two attacks upon his life in the spring of 1878. A vagrant named Hoedel fired at him in May, and in June Dr. Nobiling succeeded in wounding his majesty with buckshot. Bismarck immediately grasped the opportunity to throw odium upon the social democratic movement. He charged the social democrats with responsibility for the attacks upon the Kaiser, arguing that their teachings and criticisms of the government had inspired Hoedel and Nobiling to attempt assassination. Aided by the immense popular resentment aroused by the crimes, Bismarck succeeded in having passed by the Reichstag the severely repressive socialist laws, by which he hoped to stamp out socialism entirely.
The German government was thus empowered arbitrarily to dissolve societies, break up public meetings, confiscate and forbid publications of a revolutionary tendency, to declare places in a state of siege, to expel all persons held to be obnoxious under the law, to prevent, in short, the self-assertion of social democracy in any form. This law was enforced with relentless severity, and it was re-enacted two or three times. As one biographer of Bismarck says: “Never did the inquisition exercise its power with greater vigilance, or greater effect. Opposition was utterly out of the question, as, indeed, it had been pronounced by the social democrats themselves to be impolitic; and it was not long before the channels of their public agitation had all been effectually stopped up, and this agitation itself rendered as invisible as the fish torpedo which only reveals its destructive course by a faint ripple on the surface of the sea.”
More than one American journal of those which still have mild leanings toward democracy have referred to Bismarck’s course as a course to be carefully avoided. If Germany’s experience with Bismarck’s laws did nothing else, it taught the need of at least attempting to trace the responsibility for deeds of assassination to the right source.
The socialist laws of repression were an absolute failure; indeed, they defeated their own purpose and object. From an open propaganda social democracy became a secret one, and its political strength steadily grew under the Bismarckian persecution. The social democrats gradually secured a large representation in the Reichstag, and finally they became the most numerous political party in all Germany. The laws against them at last were repealed as futile and disturbing to the country’s domestic peace.
The fact is the German people;—even the capitalist class thereof, recognized tardily what the American people have recognized at once, that there is nothing whatever in the socialist propaganda that can incite anyone to deeds of violence. Much as certain imperialistic politicians would like to follow Bismarck’s illustrious example, they do not dare to—yet.
Bismarck, in his hatred of any opposition to monarchical absolutism and his bitter jealousy of the rise of social democracy, unscrupulously took advantage of a moment of public excitement to fasten responsibility for crime upon political opponents. In thus transfixing innocent people with an odium and an oppression they did not deserve, he did Germany irreparable injury in the end. For nothing could have been further from the political teachings of the party founded by Lassalle than assassination, murder or attempts to overthrow and abolish all government. The recognition of the state was fundamental in Lassalle’s philosophy—“that primeval vestal fire of all civilization,” as he wrote, “which I will defend with you against those modern barbarians who hate the state.”