Bebel, August 1840–1913

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Bebel, August 1840–1913

(Ferdinand August Bebel)

PERSONAL: Born February, 1840, in Cologne, Germany; died August, 1913, in Passugg, Switzerland. Politics: Socialist.

CAREER: Politician. Worked as a master turner in Leipzig, Germany, beginning c. 1860; cofounder of Saxon People's Party, 1866; elected to Constituent Reichstag of North German Confederation, beginning 1867; cofounder and chief spokesperson for Social Democratic Party, Eisenach, beginning 1969; elected to German Reichstag, beginning 1871.

MEMBER: Federation of German Workers' Societies (national chairman, beginning 1867).


Der deutsche Bauerkrieg mit Berücksichtigung der hauptsälichsten sozialen Bewegungen des Mittelalters, W. Bracke Jr. (Braunschweig, Germany), 1876.

Die Frau und der Sozialismus, Volksbuchhandlung (Zürich-Hottingen, Switzerland), 1879, 66th edition, Deitz (Berlin, Germany), 1990, translated as Woman in the Past, Present, and Future, Modern Press (London, England), 1885, J.W. Lovell (New York, NY), 1886, published as Woman under Socialism, New York Labor News Press (New York, NY), 1904, 50th Jubilee edition published as Woman and Socialism, Socialist Literature Co. (New York, NY), 1910, published as Woman: Past, Present, and Future, Boni & Liveright (New York, NY), 1918, selections published as Frau und der Sozialismus: Selections, Progress Publishers (Moscow, USSR), 1971.

Charles Fourier, sein Leben und seine Theorien, J.H.W. Dietz (Stuttgart, Germany), 1888, 3rd edition, 1907.

Zur Lage der Arbeiter in den Bäckereien, J.H.W. Dietz (Stuttgart, Germany), 1890.

Die Sozialdemokratie und das allgemeine Stimmrecht. Mit besonderer Berücksichtigung des Frauenstimmrechts und Proportional-Wahlsystems, T. Glocke (Berlin, Germany), 1895.

Aus meinem Leben (autobiography), three volumes, J.H.W. Dietz (Stuttgart, Germany), 1910–14, translated as Bebel's Reminiscences, Socialist Literature Co. (New York, NY), 1911, abridged edition published as My Life, two volumes, T.F. Unwin (London, England), 1912.

Speeches of August Bebel, [Berlin, Germany], 1926, International Publishers (New York, NY), 1928.

August Bebels Briefwechsel mit Friedrich Engles (correspondence), edited by Werner Blumenberg, Mouton (The Hague, Netherlands), 1965.

Coeditor, Vorwärts.

SIDELIGHTS: A key figure in the German Socialist movement, August Bebel rose from a childhood of poverty to become one of the most influential thinkers of his day. A cofounder, with Wilhelm Liebknecht, of the German Social Democratic Party, Bebel's oratorical gifts made him a political figurehead amid the rising tide of Marxism that swept the unified German states after the Austro-Prussian war of 1866.

Born in Cologne in 1840, Bebel was the son of a Prussian petty officer who died when August was a young boy. After obtaining a rudimentary education at a school for impoverished boys in Wetzlar, he apprenticed as a turner, a vocation that ultimately led him to settle in Leipzig in 1860. Living in the hub of German political activity, Bebel quickly became involved in politics, joining the radical Gewerblicher Bildungsverein (Industrial Educational Association, or IEA) and becoming immersed in the study of European political, social, and economic history. He also studied the works of Ferdinand Lassalle and, with the encouragement of fellow IEA member Liebknecht, those of Karl Marx and Friederich Engels. Marx in particular would be a major influence on Bebel's growing socialist beliefs.

A commanding speaker, Bebel attained prominence as a leader in labor circles, and later, in the realm of politics. From his election to the North German Constituent Reichstag in 1867 as a representative of his own Saxon People's Party, he would go on to represent Dresden and, later, Hamburg, in the German Reichstag. A founder, with Liebknecht, of the German Social Democratic Party and instrumental in aligning it with other social-reform factions, Bebel, by the time of his death in 1913, had become a cornerstone of the growing social democratic movement.

Bebel believed that the social change he viewed as necessary could best be achieved through the reform of existing social and political structures, rather than by the revolutionary tactics that would later be advocated by Vladimir Lenin. Woman and Socialism, published as Die Frau und der Sozialismus in 1879, was an outgrowth of such beliefs, an attempt to mobilize an existing women's movement under the banner of socialism.

Basing his work on the central tenet of Marxism—that political and social structures are determined by the economic conditions of all people—Bebel maintained that the antagonisms between women of different social classes were diminished due to more pressing common interests; that both laboring women and the well-heeled wives of the bourgeois class, despite their differences, might unite to fight for social, economic, and political equality. The aims of the bourgeois suffrage movement, which focused on higher education, professional careers, and the right to hold public office in its bid for equality between the sexes, would do nothing to ameliorate the underlying cause of women's historic inequality. This was, in Bebel's view, the social institutionalization through marriage and other societal norms, of the financial, physical, sexual, and mental slavery of women.

For Bebel, of course, the cause of female equality was secondary to the class struggle; indeed, Women and Socialism can be viewed as a political propaganda aimed at a female audience. The "duty of the proletarian woman," he wrote, "to join the men of her class in the struggle for a thoroughgoing transformation of society, to bring about an order that by its social institutions will enable both sexes to enjoy complete economic and intellectual independence"—in other words, to work with men toward the abolishment of capitalism—overshadows the work.

Gaining additional popularity after the formation of the Second International in Paris in 1889, Bebel's tract has been widely read throughout Western Europe and the United States. It has undergone numerous translations and has been reprinted dozens of times. Although the inclusion of now-outdated statistical data has rendered portions of the work obsolete, abridged versions of Women and Socialism are still read and studied.



Feminist Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.

Heckart, Beverly, From Basserman to Bebel: The Grand Bloc's Quest for Reform in the Kaiserreich, 1900–1914, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1975.

Maehl, William Harvey, August Bebel, Shadow Emperor of the German Workers, American Philosophical Society (Philadelphia, PA), 1980.

Marx-Aveling, Eleanor, and Edward Aveling, Thoughts on Women and Society, edited by Joachim Müller and Edith Schotte, International Publishers (New York, NY), 1986.

Women in the German Democratic Republic: On the 100th Anniversary of the Publication of August Bebel's Book "Women and Socialism," Verlag Zeit im Bild (Dresden, Germany), 1978.


Labor History, February, 1998, Ralph Walz, review of Aus meinem Leben, p. 84.