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Anti-Socialist Law (October 21, 1878)

The Anti-Socialist Law of 1878 was perhaps the most important repressive law of Bismarck’s chancellorship. Bismarck, who had never hidden his distaste for the teachings of socialism, made several attempts to curtail the growth of German Social Democracy during the 1870s – for instance through restrictions on the press and the revision of Germany’s Criminal Code. But opponents successfully resisted almost all of these measures, and the number of votes cast for socialist candidates in Reichstag elections continued to increase. Then, in May and June 1878, two attempts were made on the life of Kaiser Wilhelm I, who was badly injured in the second attack. Bismarck blamed the Social Democratic Party (SPD), though he knew better. He immediately announced new elections to the Reichstag and helped orchestrate a rabidly anti-socialist campaign in the summer of 1878. The newly elected house was more conservative than the last and passed the law reproduced below on October 21. It banned all Social Democratic associations, meetings, and newspapers. But because the SPD’s parliamentary caucus was not banned from the Reichstag, elections provided the party with a forum for continued agitation. This was supplemented by an underground network of agents, presses, and recreational clubs that clandestinely spread the socialist message. Nevertheless, between 1878 and the law’s lapse on September 30, 1890, about 1,500 people were sentenced to more than 800 years’ imprisonment. Memories of repression and hardship endured during this “heroic period” and contributed to Social Democrats’ strong feelings of solidarity and commitment. Bismarck’s anti-socialist campaign was among his greatest political miscalculations.

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Law Against the Publicly Dangerous Endeavors of Social Democracy from October 21, 1878*

§ 1. Societies [Vereine] which aim at the overthrow of the existing political or social order through social-democratic, socialistic, or communistic endeavors are to be prohibited.

This applies also to societies in which social-democratic, socialistic, or communistic endeavors aiming at the overthrow of the existing political or social order are manifested in a manner dangerous to the public peace, and, particularly to the harmony among the classes of the population.

Associations of every kind are the same as societies.

§ 2. In the event that a registered cooperative comes under the provisions of § 1, par. 2, then § 35 of the Law of July 4, 1868, concerning the legal status of cooperative associations for business and [other] economic purposes [Erwerbs- und Wirtschaftsgenossenschaften] (Bundesgesetzblatt pp. 415ff.) is to be applied.

In an analogous event, § 29 of the Law concerning registered Assistance Funds [Hilfskassen] of April 7, 1876 (Reichsgesetzblatt pp. 125ff.) is to be applied to Registered Assistance Funds.

§ 3. In the event foreseen by § 1, par. 2, Independent Fund Societies (not registered) [Unabhaengige Kassenvereine (nicht eingeschrieben)], which have the statutory purpose of mutual support for their members, are not to be immediately prohibited, but are to be put under extraordinary state control.

Where several independent societies of this kind form a union [Verband], and in the event that in one of these societies the endeavors described in § 1, par. 2 are manifested, this society can be ordered excluded from the union and put under control.

Likewise, if the described endeavors manifest themselves in one branch of a society, control is to be confined to that branch.

§ 4. The authority invested with the control is empowered:

1. To attend all sessions and meetings of the society [Verein].
2. To call and conduct membership assemblies.
3. To inspect the books, papers and cash assets, as well as to demand information about the affairs of the society.
4. To forbid the carrying out of resolutions which are apt to further the endeavors described in § 1, par. 2.
5. To transfer to qualified persons the duties of the officers or other leading organs of the society.
6. To take charge of and manage the funds.

* The law was first passed on Oct. 19, 1878. It was effective until March 31, 1881. Following that it was renewed four times: In May 1880, effective until Sept. 30, 1884; in May 1884, effective until Sept. 30, 1886; in April 1886, effective until Sept. 30, 1888, and in Feb. 1888, effective until Sept. 30, 1890. German text in SB, IV, i (1878), vol. 1, No. 47, pp. 132–35. (Footnote taken from Vernon L. Lidtke, The Outlawed Party: Social Democracy in Germany, 1878-1890, Appendix C, pp. 339-45.)

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