restricted access 5. Socialism and the Public Sphere in the Era of Anarchist “Propaganda of the Deed” 1890–1902
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C h a p t e r F I V E Socialism and the Public Sphere in the Era of Anarchist “Propaganda of the Deed” 1 8 9 0 – 1 9 0 2 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 measures, as they had tentatively done in the latter half of the 1880s. And the government initially appeared willing to find some common ground with the Social Democrats , even if its goal remained improving the lives of workers enough so that they would not support Socialism. But the mood of Wilhelm II and Chancellor Caprivi, who had replaced Bismarck in March 1890, soon soured, as the Socialists seemed little inclined in their hour of triumph to strike an overly conciliatory tone. Many conservatives inside and outside the government hoped that an intense wave of European anarchist violence from 1892 to 1894, which culminated in the murder of French President Marie Fran- çois Sadi Carnot in June of that year, would provide an opening to pass new restrictions on the Social Democrats. However, these plans were dashed by the same coalition of political groups that had opposed the Socialist Law, supported by a public that showed an increased aversion to anti-liberal restrictions being placed on domestic minorities. After Austrian Empress Elisabeth’s assassination in September 1898, the Hamburger Nachrichten (Hamburg News), for many years the mouthpiece of Chancellor Bismarck, reported on a conversation the former chancellor (who had died the previous month) had had with its staff in 1894, in which he declared, “In protecting humanity against 136 ASSASSINS and CONSPIRATORS criminal threats every energetic measure is just as appropriate as against any other infectious disease or plague. Against the modern murder sect, human society is in a situation of self-defense. He who kills in self-defense cannot ask himself whether his act is an act of justice. It is his necessity and his right to defend himself. Is not state-organized society in the same position toward the anarchists as the peaceful man who is compelled by attacks to act in self-defense in whatever way he can?”1 However, many Germans by now questioned the value of repressive measures, even against anarchists, and the government never even offered a bill. But when it pursued a measure targeting the alleged violence of striking workers against strike-breakers, which was intended to provide the legal justification for renewed persecution of Socialists, it made explicit references to the anarchist danger in order to justify the law. The bill failed, as political and public opinion remained unconvinced that Social Democrats posed a violent threat. Two further anarchist assassinations of prominent heads of state, Italian king Umberto I of Italy in 1900 and U.S. president William McKinley in 1901, prompted renewed discussion of how to address the anarchist menace, but only the most stalwart conservatives expected sweeping new legislation against anarchists, never mind Socialists. In this era, German anarchists or quasi-anarchists such as Gustav Landauer for the most part spent their time developing a cultural vision of a new social order, not promoting political violence, making them more objects of curiosity than fear. Throughout the 1890s and into the early twentieth century, left-liberal scholars and journalists devoted significant attention to the exploration of anarchist philosophy’s intellectual significance. Harking back to the pre–Socialist Law writings of men like Schäffle and Bamberger, they argued that anarchism had arisen as a reaction to the “socialist principle ” pervading German life, as an inchoate cry of stifled individualism. Like Social Democrats, these thinkers regarded anarchism as the opposite of Socialism, but unlike the Socialists, they praised its advocacy of freedom from state oppression. At the beginning of the 1890s, Social Democrats began to grapple with their new place in the German Empire. With the Socialist Law gone and nearly a million and a half votes won in the 1890 election, it seemed possible to many moderate Social Democrats that they could begin to forge political alliances, in particular with the left liberals, and fully normalize their place in German politics. On June 1, 1891, Georg von Vollmar delivered the first of two controversial speeches known as the “Eldorado speeches” (after the Munich pub...


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