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Assassins and Conspirators

Anarchism, Socialism, and Political Culture in Imperial Germany

Elun T. Gabriel

Publication Year: 2014

Over the course of the German Empire the Social Democrats went from being a vilified and persecuted minority to becoming the largest party in the Reichstag, enjoying broad-based support. But this was not always the case. In the 1870s, government mouthpieces branded Social Democracy the “party of assassins and conspirators” and sought to excite popular fury against it. Over time, Social Democrats managed to refashion their public image in large part by contrasting themselves to anarchists, who came to represent a politics that went far beyond the boundaries of acceptable behavior. Social Democrats emphasized their overall commitment to peaceful change through parliamentary participation and a willingness to engage their political rivals. They condemned anarchist behavior—terrorism and other political violence specifically—and distanced themselves from the alleged anarchist personal characteristics of rashness, emotionalism, cowardice, and secrecy. Repeated public debate about the appropriate place of Socialism in German society, and its relationship to anarchist terrorism, helped Socialists and others, such as liberals, political Catholics, and national minorities, cement the principles of legal equality and a vigorous public sphere in German political culture.
Using a diverse array of primary sources from newspapers and political pamphlets to Reichstag speeches to police reports on anarchist and socialist activity, this book sets the history of Social Democracy within the context of public political debate about democracy, the rule of law, and the appropriate use of state power. Gabriel also places the history of German anarchism in the larger contexts of German history and the history of European socialism, where its importance has often been understated because of the movement’s small size and failure to create a long-term mass movement.

Published by: Northern Illinois University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-2

I first discovered anarchism as a political theory in a high school philosophy class with Tom Murray. As an undergraduate at Haverford College, I deepened my exploration of the topic working with two fine historians, Jane Caplan and Sharon Ullman. From the moment of my arrival for graduate study at the University of California at Davis, Bill...

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pp. 3-21

When the German Empire (or Kaiserreich) was proclaimed on January 18, 1871, in Versailles’s Hall of Mirrors following the victorious end of the Franco-Prussian War, socialists played only a very small role in German politics. An organized workers’ movement had existed in the German lands for more than a decade, but its origins lay more in the liberal...

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1. Anarchy, Socialism, and the Enemies of Order in the German Empire 1871–1878

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pp. 22-42

In the first years of the German Empire, the socialist movement remained small, heterogeneous, and of relatively minor concern to the empire’s government and major political factions. The conflicts at the heart of political debate were the Kulturkampf, the Bismarck-led and liberal-supported attack on the power of the Catholic Church...

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2. Debating the Socialist Law 1878

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pp. 43-69

Nine days after the Reichstag decisively voted down Bismarck’s anti-socialist legislation and concluded its session, the majority coalition that had defended equality under the law faced a severe challenge on which it would temporarily founder as the papered-over divisions among National Liberals came back into stark relief and the conservative...

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3. The Specter of Anarchism and the Normalization of Social Democracy 1878–1885

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pp. 70-114

In 1879, Franz Mehring began a series of articles on the history of Socialism for the family magazine Die Gartenlaube (The Arbor), the most popular magazine in the German Empire. Mehring, an advocate of social reform measures to aid the working classes, had turned hostile to the socialists as their rift with liberal workers’ organizations...

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4. “The Socialist Law Is the Father of Anarchism” 1886–1890

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pp. 115-134

The public debate over the Socialist Law’s renewal in 1884 showed the easing of Social Democracy’s political marginalization. The anarchist plots in Germany from 1883 to 1885 failed to generate political enthusiasm for further anti-socialist measures or anti-anarchist laws other than the modest and targeted Dynamite Law, and from this point...

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5. Socialism and the Public Sphere in the Era of Anarchist “Propaganda of the Deed” 1890–1902

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pp. 135-166

The climactic events of 1890 marked a new era in the history of Social Democracy in the Kaiserreich. Having distanced themselves from anarchism and articulated a public identity as disciplined, peaceful, and parliamentary and no longer facing the restrictions of the Socialist Law, Socialists now found it possible to pursue a variety of practical political...

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6. Anarchist “Utopianism” and the Internal Development of German Social Democracy 1890–1914

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pp. 167-189

As far back as the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels had defined their movement in opposition to utopian “others.” In the days of the First International in the 1860s, Marxism’s chief competitor became Bakuninism. And toward the end of the 1870s, this political antagonist had begun to be defined as anarchism. Anti-anarchist rhetoric...

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7. The Challenges of Liberal Political Culture in the Decade before the Great War 1903–1914

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pp. 190-211

Public discussion of anarchism in the last decade of the Kaiserreich was confined for the most part to the left-liberal intellectuals and Social Democratic theorists described in the last two chapters. Though German police continued to monitor the anarchist movement, they expressed ever less alarm at the anarchists’ doings. For Social Democrats, the final...

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Conclusion. German Political Culture, Democracy, and Terrorism

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pp. 212-224

In these pages, I have tried to show how anarchism, a movement always on the fringes of Imperial German politics and never strong numerically, nonetheless played an important role in the development of the empire’s political culture. As an exemplar of political otherness, a marker of political pathology, anarchism attracted persistent attention...


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pp. 225-272


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pp. 273-288


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pp. 289-302

E-ISBN-13: 9781609091538
E-ISBN-10: 1609091531
Print-ISBN-13: 9780875804811
Print-ISBN-10: 0875804810

Page Count: 305
Publication Year: 2014