August Bebel and anti-semitism

Tom Condit tomcondit at igc.apc.org
Fri Apr 28 03:28:33 MDT 1995


A couple of the recent topics on this list have merged in my mind
in a rather disjointed way.

Back to August Bebel, and anti-semitism as "the socialism of
fools."  I haven't been able to find any exact quote on this, but
I'm more than ever convinced that it was Bebel.  This isn't only
because I've always heard it attributed it to him, but because of
one of Bebel's particular roles in the 19th century German
socialist movement.

There existed in the German Social Democracy a faction or wing
commonly known as the "South Germans" because of their
geographical base and the milieu in which they functioned.  They
were the most reformist wing of the party, the one most concerned
with recruiting peasants and shopkeepers as well as workers (this
having to do with the weakness of the working class in areas such
as Bavaria), and the one most inclined to blur the differences
between the socialist movement and the various strands of
populism, including anti-semitism.  They were most receptive in
the late 1890s to Edouard Bernstein's "revisionism", because it
corresponded to their practice.

The length and ferocity of Friedreich Engels' book ~Anti-Duhring~
(and its general lack of resonance among anyone other than the
immediate audience it was aimed at) is partly related to the fact
that Eugen Duhring was very popular among these "South Germans"
and in fact aspired to become the intellectual leader of both the
socialists and the anti-semites.

August Bebel was the national leader of the SPD who paid the most
attention to the "South German" question as a living one.  He
pressed the party to adopt an agrarian program which addressed
the real everyday concerns of the peasants, rather than its
existing set of homilies about how all agrarian problems could be
solved "after the revolution" as it were.  He was the most
uncompromising foe of Duhring and Bernstein.  I'd conclude from
this that he would be the most likely to have written on anti-
Semitism.

The other thread which this touches in my mind is the question of
anarchism and violence.  Our anarchist comrades are quite correct
to defend themselves from charges that they are advocates of
indiscriminate violence like the right wing militias, that they
want to create "chaos" as opposed to building an alternative to
authoritarian "order".  In fact, George Woodcock wrote an
excellent little booklet in the 1940s called "Anarchy or Chaos?"
in which he maintains that genuine social order can *only* be
created by the abolition of the church, the state and capitalism.

At the same time, anarchists have a tendency to be a little too,
shall we say, libertarian not only in who they admit to their
church but who they accept as having the gift of prophecy.  One
of the principle supporters of the "South Germans" was one Johann
Most, who denounced Engels and Bebel as "splitting the movement"
with their attacks on Duhring and the anti-semites.  Most, as
many unitedstatesians know, later became a famous anarchist
leader in Chicago, advocating bombing and terrorism as necessary
tools in "building the movement", and providing much fodder for
the capitalist press in its generalized attacks on the left.
Many anarchists today will still quote his mad ravings as if they
were connected to the type of movement they want to build.

I'm not sure if there's any ringing conclusion to be drawn from
this, but it seems to me to indicate one of the dangers which
flows from not staying focussed on the necessity of mass
organization for social change, and certainly the anarchists are
particularly prone to this because of the fear of many of them
that organization implies "authority".

Tom Condit


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