Explain Bismarck’s Motives for Attacking the Socialists. How successful was he at Achieving his objectives?


Like his predominantly unsuccessful Kulturkampf, Bismarck’s attack on the Socialists has met with much criticism, both at the time and since then. Bismarck saw the Socialist party under a paranoid veil of mistrust and apprehension, in his mind the difference between Anarchism and Socialism was negligible and it was this lack of trust that led to his anti-Socialist in the later part of his chancellorship.


Socialism is a trend that often rises in popularity with economic depression and hardship. Whilst the German industry economy at this stage was booming and rapidly overtaking the world’s leading countries of the 19th century it is unfair to say that the wealth was evenly spread amongst the people. The vast majority of the produced wealth was being channelled directly to the pockets of the few, but wealthy industrial entrepreneurs. Socialism rose from the inequality of the new industrialised Germany and was spearheaded by the widely acclaimed teachings of Karl Marx.


Bismarck saw the Socialists as a major threat to his new creation; the Second Reich. As a man with monarchical ideals, living in a monarchical country he was fiercely opposed to concepts such as wealth redistribution that the Socialists held close to their hearts. He saw any rise in the Socialist party, by 1875 called the SDP, as a decline in the fortunes of his Germany; in his words “Socialism is a threat to the unity and stability of the Reich”.


Bismarck feared Socialist rebellion in the form of something such as the revolutions of the French Commune, although this was an unfortunate miscalculation on his part as German Socialists were represented by the SDP, a party formed on the premise of law-abiding Socialism. His vehement assertion that Socialism was just Anarchism under a different title, which he did his utmost to convey to the German people using his control over the press, meant that in his eyes any attack by Anarchists was an attack by Socialists. In 1878 their were two attempts on the Kaiser’s life by Anarchists, Bismarck wasted no time in declaring that this work was of Socialist origin, and he began his official persecution of the Socialists. However, unlike many other occasions in Bismarck’s life, he was not just making use of a travesty to enhance his power; he had a genuine obsession with the destruction of Socialism and truly believed that the Anarchists who tried to take Bismarck’s life were no different from the Socialists who stood for election in the Reich. Bismarck had a legitimate fear of Socialism, most likely this fear really took root during the Franco-Prussian war in which leading Socialists, such as August Bebel, fiercely opposed such German actions as the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine, of which Bismarck viewed was Germany’s right. In Bismarck’s eyes, Socialism was an enemy of Germany.


In order to reinstate the stability of the Reich after these attacks, Bismarck set about creating laws with an undoubtedly anti-Socialist feel. However, these laws were very unnecessary, they were created in 1878, immediately after the second attack on the Kaiser, and at this point Socialism as a concept was not at all popular enough to create a threat to Bismarck’s dominance in German politics. The SPD’s seats in the Reichstag had actually declined from the previous year, from 13 to 9, this decline was set to reverse dramatically post anti-Socialist legislation and in the next election of 1884 the SDP boasted 24 seats in Reichstag. The anti-Socialist law outlawed all SDP organisations as well as any pro-working class organisations and all working class or Socialist presses. They ordered the confiscation of all Socialist literature by the state and many social-democrats and various other pro-working class groups were arrested and deported. In total, 900 workers were expelled from their homes, 1500 sentenced to various terms of imprisonment, 1300 publications were suspended and 332 organizations of workers were forcibly dissolved. However, despite the vast scale of Socialist discrimination, not all of the SDP’s power had been dissolved. They still had four newspapers running strongly, published outside of Germany but being sold amongst the German people, and the laws against Socialism just interested people in the party’s policies, which many German’s found appealing.


The persecution of the Socialists brought about much