Biography of Herman August Bebel (1840-1913)

Politician and German Socialist writer, born in Deutz, near Cologne, on February 22, 1840, and died on August 13, 1913 in Passugg (Switzerland). He/She participated in the Foundation of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) in 1869, becoming its most important figure during the following four decades.

His father was a non-commissioned officer of the Prussian army who died when he/she was just thirteen years old. He/She grew up in miserable conditions in the small town of Wetzlar, where he/she learned the trade of Carpenter Turner. In search of work, he/she toured throughout Austria and much of the South of Germany, used as a day laborer in his office. In 1860 he/she settled in Leipzig (Saxony), where would begin his political career to enter the educational workers Association (Arbeiterbildungsvereine). There he/she received his first education and began to be interested in the German political situation. In 1865 he/she became Secretary of that organization and met Wilhelm Liebknecht, an illustrated Socialist who introduced him in the ideological debates of the socialism, and which was to become one of the major influences in his private life and his political career.

In 1866, to declare the war between Austria and Prussia, Germany was divided between supporters of the "little Germany" (Kleinedeutschland) and the "big Germany" (Grossedeutschland) advocated by the "iron Chancellor", Otto von Bismarck. That same year, Bebel and Liebknecht founded the party people Saxon (Sächsische Volkspartei), which fiercely opposed the militarist and imperialist policy of Bismarck. In 1867, Bebel was elected Deputy of the Assembly constituent of the Confederation in the North of Germany, which quickly distinguished himself with his attacks on Prussian imperialism, and appointed President of the Permanent Committee of the Union of workers of Germany. Two years later, at a meeting held in Eisenach, the Saxon people's Party joined other socialist groups to form the Social Democratic Workers Party (Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei), antecedent immediate of the SPD. The new party was born closely linked to the international labour I founded in London by Karl Marx, and to which the Saxon people's Party had already acceded in 1866.

Since its inception as a Deputy in the Assembly of the Confederation of North, Bebel stood out for his strong opposition to prusianizacion policy and imperialism advocated by Bismarck, which, in his opinion, wanted to make Germany into "a huge Headquarters". In July 1870 was, together with Wilhelm Liebknecht, the only member in voting against loans decreed by Bismarck to deal with the war against France which had erupted shortly before. In 1871 he/she was elected a member of the Reichstag (German Parliament) on behalf of the SPD, which began to charge weight in the political landscape of Germany. It would occupy his seat continuously until his death. In the Reichstag, became one of the leading figures of the opposition to the Government of Bismarck. Expansionist policy, discriminatory laws against the Catholic Church and the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine after the German victory in the Franco-Prussian War, he/she attacked with hardness and brilliance. On the other hand, it supported publicly and with burning the commune of Paris, the Socialist and Republican rebellion that had erupted in the French capital after the fall of Napoleón III. These attitudes led him to jail, after being tried and found guilty of high treason in March 1872. Sentenced to two years, Bebel took advantage of in the best possible way its period in prison: he/she recovered from tuberculosis that lack of sleep had become chronic, and turned in the systematic study. Despite suffering several arrests and passing a total five years in prison in different periods since 1869, Bebel did not abandon his job as Turner, who allowed him to support his family (they had married in 1864 with the daughter of a railway worker), since not charged salary of Parliament. Until the 1880 he/she did not live entirely in his writings.

In a meeting held in Gotha in 1875, Bebel supported the merger of the SPD and the gradualist Socialist Group led by the thinker Ferdinand Lassalle, in order to achieve the union of all the German Socialists. But since 1878, the SPD had to fight against the offensive launched by Bismarck against the Socialists through a series of emergency laws that occurred until 1890. Bebel managed to keep afloat the Organization through a forceful rejection of violent struggle and revolutionary agitation strategies, considering that they put at risk the survival of the party. Despite the State of semi-secrecy that operated labor organizations, Bebel continued to perform its work in opposition through the dissemination of pamphlets and newspapers and through talks and lectures in the Socialist media. In 1886 was arrested and again imprisoned on charges of lèse majesté. Once released, he/she settled in Berlin in 1890. In the elections of that year, the SPD obtained a 20% of the votes, after the emergency laws were repealed and removed from Government by the Kaiser Bismarck Chancellor Guillermo II.

While the SPD quickly increased its implementation between the German electorate, Bebel consolidated its leadership in the party, he/she was elected President in 1892. During the following years, would try to impose the theoretical line designed by the philosopher Eduard Berstein: socialism's gradualist and reformist Court which rejected the revolutionary strategy and called for the progressive improvement of the living conditions of the working class within a democratic system. Internal discussions on the policy to adopt line culminated in the Congress of the Party held in Dresden in 1903, in which Bebel condemned any deviation of the reformista-gradualista doctrine of the majority wing of the party and faced radicals, requiring the involvement of the SPD in the revolutionary struggle. The abandonment of any revolutionary attempts Bebel was sealed in 1905, to establish a Pact by which the SPD was resigning to lead the revolutionary agitation of the German proletariat and was decidedly engaging with social democracy with trade unions.

Although faced with the Orthodox tendencies of Marxist socialism, Bebel had the respect of top leaders of the labor movement of his time. Known for his brilliant oratory, he/she acquired a huge influence on German politics and the Socialist International II. Still under his leadership, the SPD won the parliamentary majority in the elections of 1912, with 110 seats in the Reichstag. However, Bebel would die the following year, at the age of 73, while he/she was in Passugg, near Chur (Switzerland).

He combined political activity with his work as a writer and journalist from the pages of the Rotary Socialist Vorwärts (ahead). Among his works are: the war of the peasants in Germany (1876), goals (1833) and a biography of the Socialist philosopher Charles Fourier (1888). But undoubtedly his most influential and enduring book was women and socialism, published in 1883 and that achieved an immediate success inside and outside Germany. In 1910 appeared his memoirs, titled my life.


SCHRAEPLER, E. August Bebel, Sozialdemokrat im Kaiserreich. Berlin, 1966.

ROTH, G. The Social Democrats in Imperial Germany. London, 1963.