restricted access 7. The Challenges of Liberal Political Culture in the Decade before the Great War 1903–1914
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C h a p t e r SE V EN The Challenges of Liberal Political Culture in the Decade before the Great War 1 9 0 3 – 1 9 1 4 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 prewar decade saw not only a significant expansion of the party’s voter pool but also more and more cooperation between Socialists and other political factions at the local, state, and national levels. Fear of Social Democracy as a dangerous revolutionary movement was confined to a noisy fringe of hard-core nationalists who, despite their best efforts, found themselves powerless to change public perceptions on the issue. They also faced a political culture whose commitments to the rule of law, open public debate, and democratic practice had deepened and broadened in ways that challenged the German Empire’s semi-authoritarian seats of power. By 1914, the coalition of Socialists, liberals, political Catholics, and national minorities that would go on to provide the basis for the Weimar Republic ’s constitutional democracy stood ready to oppose the chancellor, the military, and the kaiser when they showed their authoritarian inclinations, despite being for the most part unable to pursue a positive legislative agenda due to the irreconcilability of their goals. Though propaganda of the deed continued in parts of Southern and Eastern Europe (for instance, anarchists killed Spain’s prime minister José Canalejas in 1912 and King The Challenges of Liberal Political Culture in the Decade before the Great War 191 George I of Greece in 1913, while Russia experienced an escalating war of terrorism and state violence, though with Social Revolutionaries rather than anarchists), anarchists almost everywhere else had abandoned the tactic. The German police continued to monitor anarchist activity with much diligence, surveilling right up to 1914 approximately 2,000–3,000 Reich citizens who either “called themselves anarchists openly or else through repeated visits to anarchist gatherings and the regular purchase of anarchist literature” declared their membership in the movement, as well as a few dozen foreign anarchists on German soil.1 Nevertheless, they neither found nor manufactured themselves any anarchists eager to throw bombs into cafés or to murder monarchs. Rather, the police reports described anarchists earnestly engaged in theoretical discussions or social activities (such as participating in singing clubs) and, at times, partaking in spirited public debates with Social Democrats about topics such as the general strike, the mass strike, and the value of parliamentarism.2 The police and judiciary greeted this all for the most part with equanimity, occasionally prosecuting individual anarchists for their activities but showing no great alarm at the movement, as can be seen in the reports of local police officials as well as the secret reports of the Berlin police presidents Borries (1902–1908) and Traugott von Jagow (1908–1916). From 1906 to 1910, German police officials reported on anarchist conferences in Ludwigshaven (in the Rhineland), Leipzig, Delmenhorst (in Lower Saxony), and Hamburg, describing in measured tones the topics of discussion, which included the general strike, opposition to parliamentary participation, and, most troubling to authorities, anti-militarism, including discouragement of military service. Included in the reports were cuttings from local newspaper stories on the discussions, which evinced the same calm.3 In addition to the occasional large conferences, dozens of local anarchist groups across the nation met regularly to discuss and promote their ideas, but they struggled to get their voices heard (not least because of Socialists’ continued harassment). In April 1911, a local official in Leipzig commented that there were a few readers of anarchist papers in some of the surrounding towns, but “due to the strong counter-agitation of the Social Democratic Party they have not thrived and are totally without significance.” The police from Dresden reported that the reading and discussion club “Knowledge,” which had about 15 members, had held a few public gatherings in the previous year, but little else, due to a lack funds.4 A similar tone can be found in the report submitted in August 1912 by the local Landrat (county commissioner) in the Brandenburg district of Nieder-Barnim: “About anarchist activities in the district there is nothing special to report. The anarchist reading- and discussion-club founded in...


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