Bebel and the S.P.G.B.

A correspondence arising out of a telegram on the results of the Parliamentary elections, sent by the leader of the German Social Democratic Party to “Reynolds’s Newspaper.”


The Socialist Party of Great Britain, la, Caledonian Road, London, N.
17th February, 1906.
A. Bebel,
Per Addresse “Vorwaerts,” 58/9 Lindenstrasse, Berlin.
Dear Comrade,
I am instructed by the Executive Committee to forward to you the enclosed cutting from Reynolds’s Newspaper of Sunday, January 28th, 1906, containing text and translation of a telegram alleged to have been sent by you to the paper in question.
The Executive Committee will be glad if you will kindly state whether such a telegram was sent by you, and in the event of a telegram having been sent, whether it is correctly reproduced in the attached cutting.
Awaiting your reply,
Yours fraternally,
(Signed) C. Lehane,
General Secretary.



Herr Bebel, the famous leader of the Social Democratic party in the German Parliament, sent a telegram yesterday to Reynolds’s Newspaper, in reply to a request for his opinion on the results of the General Election. His reply was as follows :—

I welcome the result of the elections as a genuine sign of the desire of the British people for a friendly understanding in foreign affairs, and as a progressive development in domestic affairs. In any case the decision of the voting implies a cold douche for Jingoes with us and with you. On the other hand, with regard to the signs of progress in domestic affairs, I dare not, after old experiences, express an opinion until I know more.


German Imperial Parliament,
Berlin, February 20th, 1906.
Dear Comrade,
The telegram corresponds with the wording of that sent by me. By way of explanation I wish to state that concerning “progress internally” I have above all in mind possible progress in the amelioration of the working class position. Here I also regard the Liberal Party with distrust.
With fraternal greetings.
(Signed) A. Bebel.


The Socialist Party of Great Britain,
London, 9th March, 1906.
A. Bebel,
German Imperial Parliament, Berlin.
Dear Comrade,
I am directed by the Executive Committee to acknowledge receipt of your letter of 20th ult. regarding your telegram to Reynolds’s Newspaper.
The Executive Committee of The Socialist Party of Great Britain wishes to enter its emphatic protest against your action in this matter. The opinion you expressed in the telegram is not in accord with the Socialist position in this country, as set forth in the manifesto (entitled “Why Vote?”) issued by this Party in January last, copy enclosed. Reynolds’s Newspaper is a capitalist organ which has used your telegram against the Socialists and in support of the Liberals.
The Executive Committee regrets that occasion should have arisen to evoke this protest, but the sentiments to which you have given utterance in welcoming Liberalism to political power as an indication of progress in foreign or domestic affairs are such as to leave no other course open. Nationally and internationally there is but one Party to which we can look for progress, and that is the Socialist Party, but Socialism will triumph only by the overthrow of Liberalism in Britain and elsewhere.
Copies of this letter are being forwarded to the German Social-Democratic Party, International Socialist Bureau, and “Vorwaerts.”

Yours fraternally,
(Signed) C. Lehane, General Secretary.


Translated from “Vorwaerts” of March l5th, 1906:

Relating to this matter Comrade Bebel writes us:—

Immediately on the conclusion of the English Parliamentary elections, I received a telegram from the Editorial Department of Reynolds’s Newspaper requesting me to communicate to them my views concerning the result. For this purpose a prepaid telegram form that afforded me the scope of 120 words for my reply was placed at my disposal. As the character of Reynolds’s Newspaper was known to me as that of a bourgeois paper, I at first entertained misgivings as to the advisability of sending a reply. Eventually I dispelled these doubts and sent off the telegram reprinted above.

But I am not a little astonished at the importance the Executive Committee of The Socialist Party of Great Britain attaches to my telegram. When describing the result of the English elections as designating a state of mind of the British people in favour of a peaceable development of affairs externally and conducive to progress internally, I could not, had I been, dreaming, have understood by that only the result in favour of the Liberals, and could not possibly have overlooked the result of the elections in favour of the Socialist Party. The total effect of the elections has the result pointed out by me—the protest raised does not in any way alter my views, which may be characterised in three directions:—

1. Definite disavowal of the protective tariff proposals of Mr. Chamberlian and his colleagues.
2. Renunciation of Jingoism and Chauvinism which have developed more and more under the Conservative regime.
3. Furtherance of progress in the social legislation of England, mainly due to the entrance of representatives of the Socialist Party into Parliament.

In the concluding sentence of my telegram, I certainly expressed distrust as to whether hopes of this kind would be realised in face of the Liberal majority in Parliament.
How the Executive Committee of The Socialist Party of Great Britain could gather from my telegram that I failed to recognise that real progress, internationally and at home, could only be achieved by Socialism, is also a riddle to me. Let no one ascribe to me what, in consideration of my past career, nobody dare impute.
I am not aware in what way Reynolds’s Newspaper has used my telegram against my comrades in England. The loyal interpretation of my telegram that I had reason to expect from the Editorial Department of that journal would have made it impossible. If I have been mistaken in this respect, I am sorry.
(Signed) A. Bebel.
Schoeneberg-Berlin, March 13th, 1906.


The Socialist Party of Great Britain, la, Caledonian Road, London, N.
22nd. March, 1906.
To the Editors, ” Vorwaerts” Berlin.
Dear Comrades,
The questions raised in the telegram sent by Comrade Bebel to Reynolds’s Newspaper and further elaborated by our Comrade in his reply published by Vorwaerts to the protest which the Executive Committee of The Socialist Party of Great Britain felt constrained to enter, are of such serious importance to us here in England and we believe also to the whole international Socialist movement that the Executive Committee desires through the columns of Vorwaerts to deal with the position taken up by Comrade Bebel in this matter.

Let us say at the outset that far from desiring to inconsiderately impute to Comrade Bebel sentiments out of harmony with his record as a fighter in the ranks of Socialism, it was with feelings of pain that we found it necessary to send our protest, recollecting as we did that it was Comrade Bebel who at the International Socialist Congress (Amsterdam, 1904) strongly supported the ”Dresden Resolution” which decisively affirmed our tried and victorious policy based on the class struggle, condemned every attempt to mask the ever-growing class antagonisms, rejected all responsibility of any sort under political and economic conditions based on capitalist production, and discountenanced any measure tending to maintain the dominant class in power; but, having regard to the position laid down in the Dresden Resolution, we deemed it our imperative duty to call attention to an action, to which Comrade Bebel does not appear to attach much importance but to which Reynolds’s Newspaper gave the greatest possible prominence, in the hope that we would in future be saved from the humiliation of seeing the lesson which we have been hard endeavouring to inculcate into the minds of the British working class repudiated by a prominent continental Comrade in the columns of one of the most dangerous organs of Capitalism in this country.

Here we wish to observe that although we called Comrade Bebel’s attention to the manifesto (“Why Vote ?”) issued by The Socialist Party of Great Britain in January last, he has not even hinted at the truth or falsity of the arguments therein set forth. A correct comprehension of the nature of our protest is perhaps impossible unless the position taken up in iliai manifesto is known and appreciated.

Regarding the telegram which is the subject of this correspondence, there is absolutely nothing in it to suggest that the sender was a Socialist, and had it not been announced by Reynolds’s Newspaper that the message had been sent by Comrade Bebel no one would have suspected that this was a pronouncement made by a recognized spokesman of Socialism. On the contrary, the telegram might well be supposed without taxing the imaginative faculty, to have been sent by an ordinary bourgeois radical. Indeed, far from crediting this message to have emanated from Comrade Bebel, and well knowing how erroneous it might be on our part to rely on the mere assertion of a journal like Reynolds’s Newspaper that the published wording was the actual text of the telegram sent, we decided in the first instance to send direct to our Comrade the complete cutting from Reynolds’s Newspaper in order that we might ascertain the authenticity and accuracy of the published message.

We received from Comrade Bebel a letter confirming the telegram and at the same time volunteering the information that as to “progress internally” he had particularly in mind possible progress in the betterment of the position of the working class. The fact that our Comrade thought it necessary to explain a certain part of his telegram would seem to indicate that he himself realised that his message was not explicit in at least this particular, and the further fact that in his statement already published in Vorwaerts he introduced matters not referred to in the telegram serves to shew that he recognises the incompleteness of the position he at first laid down.

In his reply to our letter published in Vorwaerts Comrade Bebel states that his telegram described the result of the English elections as designating a state of mind of the British people ; to this we have raised no objection but we would point out that what we have called attention to was that the telegram also indicated on the part of Comrade Bebel a state of mind which was in our opinion unsatisfactory m so far as it “welcomed” as a sign of progress that result. The concluding sentence of the telegram did certainly express doubt as to whether the expectations of progress would be fulfilled, but similar doubts and in stronger language haver been more than once expressed by Reynolds’s Newspaper itself. That, however, dues not prove the Editor of Reynolds’s Newspaper to be a Socialist. Surely, we are justified in expecting from our comrade an expression of opinion which would convey something more than a doubt as to the power or inclination of the Liberal Party of Capitalism to ameliorate the condition of the working class ? The members of The Socialist Party of Great Britain at any rate entertain no doubts on the matter. British Liberalism is an enemy, and we expect nothing from an enemy but hostility.

Comrade Bebel avers that in sending his telegram he had in mind not merely the result in favour of the Liberals, but also the result in favour of the Socialist Party. Here the result of the elections is regarded as an overwhelming triumph for Liberalism or Radicalism, and as the telegram did not contain any reference to Socialism, it was open to the render to understand that our Comrade sympathised with the Radical victory. We have again perused the telegram and find our impressions in no way altered. In this connection it is well to point out that it is a common practice among capitalist journals in Britain to describe German Socialism as a bourgeois Radical movement, and when we here preach the class struggle they tell us that we are not in accord with the German movement. In the issue of Reynolds’s Newspaper containing Comrade Bebel’s telegram, an editorial article in the column preceding that which was boldly headed by the telegram, points out that “a Socialist in theory is a Radical in practice,” and the publication of the telegram as an ”important” message was calculated to support this position. In that issue, also, is reproduced part of our “Why Vote ?” manifesto, and the obvious contradiction between our advice to the working class to abstain from voting altogether in the last General Election (on the grounds that every candidate appealing for their votes was a conscious or un-conscious supporter of capitalism and that, therefore, whatever the result, it could not be beneficial to them) and the position taken up by Comrade Bebel whose telegram greeted the result as an auspicious sign of progress, was just the. kind of thing which has in the past been used to our detriment by the British Radical press.

Our Comrade says he cannot imagine how we could have thought he did not recognise that genuine progress could be achieved except by Socialism, but there is no mention of Socialism in the telegram and the victory of the Liberal Party is the only result referred to.

Regarding Comrade Bebel’s views with reference to the result of the British elections, we wish to make the following comments :

(1) We agree that it might be described as an expression of determination to uphold the Free Trade system. In view, however, of tho fact that as admitted by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman the head of the Liberal and Free Trade Government, there are in Britain to-day thirteen millions of the working class on the verge of starvation although the Free Trade regime has been established for sixty years, it can scarcely be claimed that the workers have much to congratulate themselves upon. As Comrade Bebel knows, it is difficult to say which are the worst off, the workers of Protectionist America or Free Trade Britain. In Germany where Feudalism is still far from being extinct there doubtless exist reasons for interesting the workers in questions of tariff, but here in Britain where industrial Capitalism enjoys full sway, such reasons are inapplicable. Hence we tell the working class that questions of tariff do not affect them.
(2) If the elections shewed a desire on the part of the British people to renounce jingoism, it is a curious fact that in foreign affairs it is the avowed intention of the Liberal Cabinet to continue the policy of the late Tory Government. On the very day that Reuter’s Berlin telegram containing Comrade Bebel’s view as to the abandonment of Jingoism in England was published, there also appeared in the English press the announcement of the refusal of the British Secretary for War to reduce the standing army which is still on the same footing as it was during the South African War. In this refusal the Government were supported by such “Socialist” Members of Parliament as P. Snowden, D. J. Shackleton and W. Crooks. Indeed, there has been no slackening of Jingoism either during or after tne elections. Comrade Bebel has apparently mistaken Liberal professions for Liberal performances. They profess to be the party of peace, but historical records shew that more wars have been carried on in the name of the British nation while the Liberal Party have been in power than while the Tories have held ollice.
(3) We absolutely deny the accuracy of our Comrade’s assertion that progress is to be expected in the social legislation of England due to the entrance into Parliament of representatives of the Socialist Party. Not a single Socialist canidate was elected. It is not at all clear what Comrade Bebel has in mind when he speaks of the “Socialist Party,” but if he refers to the Labour Representation Committee, which is the organisation that returned the so-called Independent Labour members, we wish to inform our Comrade that this organisation declines to recognise any Socialist candidate : it has no principles, no program, and merely a constitution which states that their members shall be independent of the other political parties. The Independent Labour Party, which ran its candidates under the auspices of the Labour Reprsentation Committee, repudiates the class struggle—see their press. J. Keir Hardie, Chairman of the Labour Party in Parliament, denies the class struggle, and J. Ramsay MacDonald, Secretary of the Labour Representation Committee and Parliamentary Whip of the Labour Party, has recently written a book entitled “Socialism and Society,” published by the Independent Labour Party, repudiating the class struggle and ranking Karl Marx as the last of the Utopian Socialists. Those candidates claiming to be Socialists and recognised as such by the International Socialist Congress or International Socialist Bureau, and who were elected, did not stand as Socialists—they are part and parcel of the non-Socialist Labour Party. The Social Democratie Federation, which is claimed by Reynold’s Newspaper to be “the only genuine Socialistic organisation in the Kingdom,” did not secure the return of a single Socialist candidate.

The Executive Committee of The Socialist Party of Great Britain notes that Comrade Bebel recognises that genuine progress in both domestic and international affairs can be achieved only by the Socialist Party, but regrets that he did not remove any possibility of misconception by utilising for the specific indication of this belief the remaining scope of the one hundred and twenty words prepaid by Reynolds’s Newspaper. Had he have done this, the London organ of bourgeois democracy would be unlikely to have given his message the prominence it did.

The Executive Committee of
The Socialist Party of Great Britain,
(Signed) C. LEHANE.
General Secretary.

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