Socialists in a German University
To Leipsic University, in 1877, there had drifted a large part of the radical and socialistic element among the students of Northern Europe: here came German Socialists, Russian Nihilists, iconoclastic Jews, and poverty-stricken radicals from Poland, Roumania, Switzerland, and Greece. Sooner or later most of these bold but indigent spirits landed in the Convictorium, — an institution in the university where three hundred impecunious students received free but scanty board. I entered the university in the autumn of 1877 ; soon afterwards I conceived the idea of earning my living there for a year, and in consequence I found myself in a remarkably short time in the Convictorium, seated in the midst of the extreme socialistic and nihilistic section. At our table were those alone who had obtained scholarships in political economy; and as the Socialists took the greatest interest in that subject, our party embraced the leading Socialists of the hall. We were twelve : four Germans, two Russians, two Roumanians, and one representative each from Poland, Switzerland, Greece, and America. Our average age was twenty-seven ; our dress was varied and nondescript. Daily, at noon, our three hundred hungry and expectant representatives of the studious poverty of all nations were seated on benches before the square tables, with a loaf of black bread for each man, a glass of water for every three, and salt in luxurious profusion. The aged attendants placed on each table a very large pan of very thin soup, which was most equitably distributed by the student whose turn it was to serve. So hungry were we, such quick work did our iron spoons make of the thin fluid, that in two minutes we had emptied our plates, and were waiting with restlessness for the second and grand course. At last came our twelve pieces of overdone meat, half hidden in a mass of potatoes. The server had the first choice: with exasperating deliberation he pronged the largest piece; the man on his right captured the next largest, and so on to the unhappy twelfth man. But fortune was not always with the server : sometimes he would rashly dive for what he thought a mammoth piece of meat, and in despair would land on his plate a barren waste of bone and gristle. Our Russian friends related a tradition that a twelfth man once hoisted, in wonder, from the débris of potatoes, a monster slice of meat, nearly half the size of a diminutive German lady’s hand; but this, like other reported miracles, we received cum grano. If a man were absent, his portion belonged to the server ; if two were absent, the server’s right-hand neighbor had also a double portion. How we looked forward to the day when we should serve, and how often were our anticipations disappointed ! Frequently the table was full, and, to crown all, there were peripatetic vagabonds prowling around the hall, — not regular members, — who were watching an opportunity of sliding into some vacant seat. If a member came late he lost his meal. The rules required that the full allowance for twelve should be placed on each table, however few were there; but I never knew any food to be left uneaten. I have been one of four who consumed at supper the portion that had been intended for twelve men : that evening will ever remain bright in the annals of our Convictorium life. For supper we had soup and sausage, and sometimes in place of the latter we even had butter. We had no breakfast in the Convictorium, and our food was barely half sufficient for the wants of a healthy Englishman or American ; yet I knew many there who took no food in addition, save a cup of coffee and an occasional glass of beer. Sometimes a few brought in eggs, and ate them in their soup ; but they were considered reckless Sybarites. One day, on entering the hall, we were astounded at seeing each table resplendent with four bottles of wine: the most gracious King of Saxony desired us on that, his birthday, to drink his health, which we did most heartily, and wished that many such kings ruled over the land. On that day it was noticed that many of us, beguiled by our luxury, spent a full half hour at table. This was indeed remarkable, for usually, by twenty minutes past the hour, every plate had been emptied, and of all who had feasted not one remained.
After dinner some twenty of us, who formed a quasi club, commonly appropriated the back parlor of a small RussoGerman restaurant, assuaged our pertinacious appetites with coffee and cheap cigars, and criticised the affairs of nations. All were deeply interested in politics, while many of us wrote for the press in Germany and our respective countries, and corresponded with leading politicians. Thus our club became a centre of political news, which was sent to us from Russia, Poland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and France. Among us were long-bearded Russians, kind-hearted and patriotic Poles, sturdy and enthusiastic Germans, jovial Swiss, and keen, able Jews of different nationalities. We were all republicans, and older than the average student. Most of us were poor, and earned at least a part of our living by writing and teaching. Some gave weekly lectures on political economy, history, or literature to workingmen in the socialist workingmen’s societies ; others had private Sunday classes of workingmen in the same subjects; and nearly all were assisting, either by writing or teaching, the propagandism of liberal ideas. Once or twice a week one of the party lectured to us on some peculiarities in the political or social conditions of his country; and ten or a dozen were found at our resort every evening, reading, writing, and discussing. Most of the party were infidels. Some had suffered hardships, peculiar and severe, and all were good fellows. E. was one of the oldest among us: a man of middle age, with the blonde beard and sturdy frame of the North. A medical student, he earned his bread by contributing scientific articles to Russian journals. As a teacher, a lay doctor, and a propagandist of liberal ideas, he had wandered for ten years among the country districts of Russia. On the confines of Siberia, he had seen the long lines of the condemned on their weary march of weeks to the mines. The prisoners were usually in bands of a hundred, clad in brown cloaks with yellow crosses on the backs, and fastened by pairs to a long chain running the length of the line. Picturesque indeed was E.’s description of the scene : the level waste, with its lonely road stretching to the distant town, whose gaudy church domes shone in bitter contrast to the poverty around; the lonely traveler, who bowed before the painted image at each wayside shrine, and gave his scanty alms to the weakest of the condemned ; and that sombre band slowly wending its painful march, in which the sighs and murmurs of the many were drowned by the laughter of the reckless few, by the heavy clanking of the chains, and by the rough, guttural orders of the guards, He had seen these prisoners, sinking from fatigue in the miry road, struck by guns in the hands of their keepers, and among these his only brother,1 whom he had followed until driven away by the guards. Rough and harsh in respect to trifling woes, he was most tender where real misery existed, and in assistance spared neither means nor labor. Soon he expected to take his degree, and again to wander as a physician and propagandist among the peasants of his native land.
Another remarkable man was B., a Jew from the south of Russia, a laborer’s son ; tall, spare, muscular, and dark, controlling a fierce and restless energy with a calm, calculating prudence that seldom gave way. Apparently impervious to heat or cold, one of the hardest workers of our party, he subsisted on the food of the Convictorium, without even the assistance of beer. With most of us, prudence was in inverse ratio to our means, and extravagance forced us to devote much time to teaching ; but strict economy enabled B. to give his whole attention to medicine and political economy. He lived on forty marks a month, yet was ever in perfect condition. While in the north of Russia, near the borders of Siberia, he had written and published a bitter attack against the government authorities in Siberia for their opposition, in 1875, to the establishing of a journal there.2 For this he was arrested, placed in a country prison, and kept in a large room having only one window, and that heavily grated, with thirty other prisoners, for six months. Their beds were benches swarming with vermin; the floor was covered with a thick matting of filth ; the water given them was impure ; and their food, insufficient and wretched as it was, often could not be eaten in its putrid condition. As the jailer received a fixed sum for each prisoner, he cared for them as cheaply as possible. B. described how these thirty men, half clad in the cast-off garments of previous prisoners, changed gradually from restless anxiety to apathetic recklessness and indifference, from health to sickness and disease, from an ineffectual attempt at cleanliness to utter neglect of bodily care or personal appearance, until at last their mental, physical, and moral condition seemed dragged down to and engulfed in the filth and vermin around them. A large number of the prisoners were peasants arrested on suspicion of arson.3 B. was at last discharged by the revising procureur without a trial, and he deemed it useless to take any measures against the juge d ’instruction who had wantonly imprisoned him.4
The Russians in our party were agreed that the condition of the Russian peasant had been growing worse for years. E. claimed that in his ten years’ wandering he had seen that condition sink gradually, but surely, lower ; that peasants, who in the beginning ate little meat, ended by eating none ; that their bread, year by year, grew even poorer and more scanty ; that their hovels, which at first were unfit for men, became at last unfit for beasts ; and that the peasants, ignorant, imprudent, and weighed down by taxes, were coming more and more into the power of Jewish usurers, against whom the general hatred was becoming more intense, and the outbreaks were growing more frequent and severe.5
The year of my stay at Leipsic was an exciting period for Russia. In September, 1877, some Russian students at Berlin, suspected of being Nihilists, were arrested by the German authorities, at the request of the Russian government, and sent to Russia. Trouble between the students and the government soon after broke out in the universities of Khardow, Kief, St. Petersburg, and Moscow, and live hundred students were expelled, imprisoned, or banished to Siberia. Some of our Russian members had friends and relatives among those imprisoned and banished ; but all of us deplored these absurd outbreaks, and there was nothing said in favor of assassination. All were agreed that time and education could alone help Russia ; that the status of the people even more than the government was the cause of Russia’s misery. A few, like E., were soon to set out for some Russian village : there they would start a school, and after they had trained or found a younger man, both able and willing to carry on the work, they would start afresh in another village, and so on for their lives. Few foreigners are aware of the general ignorance of the Russian people. In 1873, of 12,213,558 children between the years of seven and fourteen, only 839,565 were receiving educational instruction; of the army recruits in 1872, eighty-eight per cent, could neither read nor write. It is the unknown heroes like E., now toiling as teachers in the villages of Russia, who in coming years will raise the Russian people to a worthy place among civilized nations. Two years later, in London, I met some leading Nihilists, and among them H———n, who had become widely known by his attempt on the life of the Czar, and by the refusal of the French government to deliver him to Russia. There I heard many accounts of the imprisonment and banishment of relatives and friends : such, for example, as the story of the three Soubotina sisters, who, at the ages of twenty, nineteen, and seventeen, were arrested in 1875 on the charge of disseminating socialistic ideas, and dragged from prison to prison until 1877, when they were tried and banished to Siberia. The eldest, Marie, died on the way, at Novosenok, from the privations of the march ; the others at the last accounts were in the mines. H———n was arrested for a trifling press offense, was placed in a cell so small that walking was impossible, and, clad only in shirt and trousers, was kept there five months in winter time, while the snow and rain came in through the broken window and froze upon the floor.
I he Nihilists have, with all Russians, much to complain of in the tyranny of government officials. Their ultimate aims — the attainment of liberty and representative government — are most worthy ; but in attempting assassination they have made a fatal mistake. While we respect the utter self-abnegation, the entire devotion to the welfare of Russia, of a man likeH-n, we must censure his deeds none the less severely. The Nihilists claim that if they expound liberal ideas they are banished to Siberia ; but that is no reason for attempting assassination, a means which must lose them not only the sympathy and assistance of the civilized world, but also the coöperation of the well-to-do classes in Russia, — a coöperation which seems essential there to a successful revolution. The assassination of the late Czar ought naturally to endear to the throne the Russian masses and all friends of order. Every cruel act of the Russian government, every unjust banishment, will increase the ranks of the opposition ; and in time the overthrow of the government will be possible. If the Nihilists have a majority, let them make a revolution ; otherwise they will best serve their country and their cause by suffering and waiting. Patience and long-suffering are the indispensable prerequisites of political revolution. Against revolution which has a just cause and reasonable prospects of success there is nothing to say; it is the ultimate resort of an oppressed people ; but against political assassination by a party which, without it, would have the aid and sympathy of the lovers of freedom of the civilized world there is everything that can be said against a policy unwise and suicidal.
In our party at Leipsic, all were republicans, although some, including myself, were not Socialists. But regarding immediate practical reforms, all were agreed. The Socialists, for the time being, were simply Liberals. In Germany they demanded a ministry responsible to the Reichstag, the separation of church and state, a reduction in the standing army, and government supervision of workingmen’s dwellings and factories. Our members generally followed Karl Marx, the " master Socialist,” in desiring that industrial development should proceed unchecked by government. They claimed that capital and land were gradually coming into fewer hands : whenever, in the future, all industries should be controlled by a few persons, then, and then only, the state should confiscate industrial capital, and become the great producer. The concentration of capital in fewer hands, the centralization by Bismarck of the telegraph and railways in the control of the state, were hailed with delight by most of our number as steps towards Socialism. We had great faith in the people, in a democratic form of government; and fondly believed that if the masses were left to themselves experience would lead them ultimately to the best political courses. “ The people will do no wrong,” was a favorite remark ; and no such rank heresy was tolerated as that the masses, if elevated to power, would commit political suicide by the gradual and experimental process of legislation. Poverty had preserved in our number the distinctive features of nationality in dress and taste ; while radical opinions had made us, on general questions, quite free from local prejudice. So antipodal were many of our opinions that we ceased to regard any social or political customs as natural, and looked on all by the sole light of expediency. The hard circumstances in which the lives of many of us had been placed tinged our party with melancholy and pessimism: men there possessing great ability had often no ambition ; with the keenest interest in the advance of their opinions, they were indifferent to personal advancement. The iron customs of Europe, which present so many obstacles against the rise of the novus homo in politics, caused most of our party, radicals though they were, to think only of remaining in the ranks. Still, we had a few bold, ambitious spirits, who had already made a more than local reputation as speakers and writers, and who hoped in time to figure in the political arena of Europe.
The Germans and Russians of our party were our ablest men ; the Roumanians the most genial and popular. Midway in both respects came the plodding Swiss and the sentimental Poles. The Roumanians and the Hungarians were the most cheerful and generous of impecunious beings; hard workers only from necessity ; without ambition ; theologues, but often immoral and profane ; Socialists in a measure, but caring more for our company than for our ideas. Their end in life was the ease of a country parsonage, where they would have plenty to drink and little to do. We were glad to have their company ; for they brought among us a kind and mellow influence, softened our harsh pessimism, and gave to the party its fraternal and convivial cast. The most careless and singular specimen among them was C. A theological student, sent there by a friendly and pious widow, he had never attended a lecture, and cared no more about theology than an Esquimaux about the integral calculus. Gaunt, uncouth, slovenly in dress and careless in manner, he could become at will the centre of conversation. I have seen young German nobles, when thrown into his company, begin by disdaining, and end
by humbly admiring him. He was a Bohemian par excellence, and had traveled over Europe as a vagabond for four years. Though well educated, he cared more for the life of a farmer than that of a student, and much of his wandering had been among the peasants of Germany. He had worked as a laborer on the large farms of the Rhine, from five in the morning until eight at night; had received his thirty cents per day ; and had slept, with the other laborers, in the same stable with the cattle. In Silesia and Mecklenburg, be had lived with the tamed and dispirited “ free laborers ; ” had earned his twenty cents per day in summer; and had slept in a room where fifteen persons, of different sexes and of three different families, were huddled together upon the filthy straw.6
C. cared not whether mankind in general rose or fell ; but he sympathized warmly with the peasants, among whom he had labored and suffered. He hated only one class, — the village Jews of Germany. In many German villages, where the common land has been gradually parceled in small bits, the farms of the peasants are composed of minute strips of land, scattered over the whole parish. I have seen farms which contained two hundred such strips. BaringGould, in his Germany, Past and Present, writes : “ In some places the owner of twenty hectares (about fifty acres) will have some one thousand bits of land distributed over the whole surface of the parish. Such is the case on the Main and the Middle Rhine.” The lots of land are too small for pasturage; universal tillage drives the price of grain so low that farming is not profitable ; while the extra labor necessitated by having land in so many small lots places the peasants at a great disadvantage. Legal difficulties and conservatism prevent the exchange of lots and the concentration of farms. A poor year commonly forces the peasants into the hands of the Jews. In each village there are Jews who are continually watching the distresses of the farmer ; they induce him in every way to borrow money ; and when they once have a hold upon him he seldom escapes. Two successive hard years, combined with ruinous rates of interest, are often sufficient to overwhelm him. The Jews seize his land, and sell it out in small parcels at high prices, as contiguous owners are anxious to enlarge their plots. Some of the meanest specimens of mankind are found among these village Jews, and their severity often causes outbreaks against them. The landed classes sympathize with the peasants in their difficulties; and this explains in a measure the present agitation against the Jews in Germany. Even Bismarck is said to be bitterly opposed to the Jews ; his sympathies are with the landed aristocracy, and he dislikes the rise to power of the mercantile and money-lending classes, of which the Jews are the most conspicuous examples. C. was once so deeply involved in a serious outrage committed on the property of an obnoxious Jew that he was forced to leave the village. He confessed that his acts were foolish, but pleaded in excuse the loss of land and home by the peasant with whom he was staying. The Jew had induced the peasant to enlarge his farm by buying lands on loans at excessive interest. A bad year followed, and the peasant was obliged to borrow more money. The Jew, in lending, forced the peasant to take one third of the loan in spirits. The natural consequences followed; the peasant drank too much ; his crops were poor ; his interest was not paid ; and his land was seized by the Jew. The Jews are a harsh but effectual instrument for destroying the system of “ small-lot farming:” they bring the owners of “lot farms ” into their power, and then sell the lands to those whose farms are in larger lots, and who are therefore prosperous. Historical reasons have caused the smalllot system to exist only among the rich lands of Germany; and it has consequently never been in vogue in Northern Germany. Nevertheless, the poverty of the soil has made the condition of the peasants in the north worse than that of those in the south of Germany.7
E., B., and myself by turns ran a Sunday lecture course in a village near Leipsic, with the important assistance of C. Some of the laborers whom we met there read Buckle, Mill, Proudhon, and Marx with great interest. The German laborers are not practical, but many of them possess a rugged mental strength capable of dealing with abstruse subjects far above the grasp of the English and American laborer. Not that the intelligence of the German laborer is above that of his English and American brother ; the contrary is true. Compulsory education has diffused school knowledge more widely in Germany than in England, or even America; but millions of stupid and docile Germans have exerted their entire intellectual strength in the effort to learn what they have been commanded. While in school learning the German laborer is in advance of his English, French, and American contemporaries, he is behind them in tact, originality, and self-reliance.
Our lecture was an informal talk on history, and the customs and institutions of foreign countries. C. was the principal attraction ; he had always at hand some concrete illustration of our principles, taken often from his personal experience and travels, and it was mainly due to him that we roused an intellectual furore in the village. In the afternoon and evening came the regular village dance, in which all, both old and young, joined with a solid delight, purely German. The blunted sensibilities of the German laborer enable him to endure his hard condition with composure; while his deep fund of feeling enables him to derive the highest enjoyment out of the simplest pleasures. In the dance, C. was monarch of all; and, what was peculiar, his gallantries, carried ever so far, seemed never to rouse the jealousy of the village swains. Late at night we walked home, escorted by several of our village friends. Often, on Sundays, we dined with some professor, judge, or politician ; sometimes we attended a huge people’s meeting, where Liebknecht or Bebel would speak, and which would end, as usual, in beer and dance. Liebknecht, with whom I became well acquainted, was the leader of the Socialists in the German Reichstag, and the head and strength of the Socialist organization. A noble by birth, in 1848 he gave up the editorship of the leading Berlin journal, the Nord Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, refused high official positions, and joined himself with the radical party. His frequent imprisonments gave him time to write his principal works. But in Prussia he was once imprisoned for six months, and on every day of his confinement he was promised, for the next day, writing materials; which were given to him, for the first time, on the day of his release. Meanwhile, he was planning a work. The continual delay was too much for his fiery and nervous disposition ; his mind became overcharged with material; and he escaped insanity only by writing, for months, with his fingernails on the walls. He spent some time in London as the pupil of Marx, and on the death of Lassalle drew the latter’s followers over to the Marxites. To Liebknecht is mainly due the superb organization of the German Socialists. Since 1879 the Socialist candidates have been unable, except in secret, to address their constituents ; their journals have been suppressed, and their correspondence has been intercepted ; but their organization, despite these obstacles, has increased the Socialist vote at every election. A good example was given at the election to the Saxon Landtag, at Planitz, in 1879. So sure were the Conservatives of returning their candidate that up to the day of voting their journals congratulated their readers on the prospect of an uncontested election in their favor. But to the surprise of nearly all Saxony, Herr Puttrich, a Socialist, was elected by a large majority. Liebknecht is a man of blows. His hard life and the loss of his wife from anxiety and want while he was in prison have embittered his nature; he hates, and is hated ; strife has become second nature to him, and he must battle to the end.
Later, in London, I knew Karl Marx, the founder of Socialism of to-day. He gave to Lassalle, Liebknecht, and Bebel their tenets ; and were it not for him, those who are now termed Socialists in Germany would be called advanced Liberals. Marx is a Jew. In 1843, at the age of twenty-five, he edited the Vorwarts in Paris, with the assistance of the poet Heine. The career of the paper was brilliant, but short, as Marx was expelled from France in 1844. For the next five years he was driven from country to country on the Continent. Since 1849 he has lived in London; whence he has directed the movements of the Internationals, and inspired the Socialists. His chief work, Capital, is considered, even by his enemies, as one of the remarkable productions of this generation. Strong yet tender, broad and learned yet keen and logical, Marx has the originality of genius and the qualities of greatness. His personality and career make him an extraordinary man. His life is the study of the industrial and social condition of the world ; and with him one seems to enter into the inner circle of events.
Despite the assistance of the Convictorium, many of our party spent for extra food more than was paid for board by the average student. This and other extravagances caused us at times to work hard for a living: when we ran behind financially, we gave our whole attention to teaching and writing, until we were again in a solvent condition. E. and myself once tutored eight hours a day for six weeks in Russian and English respectively, and each in Latin and mathematics.
In the beginning of spring came that state of despondency into which most hard-working strangers in Leipsic fall. During the wintry months there is little inclination to walk more than is absolutely necessary in that city, whose sun, a dull, lurid ball of fire, is seen but a few hours daily. Lack of exercise, poor food, excess of stimulants and work, brought us by spring into a spiritless, stagnant state. I knew an able, ambitious Englishman in this condition, who was with difficulty deterred from his purpose of marrying a simple German girl in an obscure village ; of managing his wife’s tiny estate ; of vegetating there, and living and dying in peace. E., B., and myself, in our struggle against this stagnation, determined to work together twelve hours a day : as a consequence, B. broke down. He had long been overworked and ill, and the climax caused him to abhor labor. In his worst state he happened to read of the life among the Hill Tribes in India: “ where 't is better to walk than run, to sit than walk, to sleep than sit; and where eternal sleep is best of all.” B. became almost a monomaniac in his admiration for this Indian life ; C. needed little persuasion to become a convert, and both besieged E. and myself to go to that happy abode. We knew that in a few days some diversion would end the journey ; and as B. was quite sick, and needed a change, we consented to start. We departed in secret and with the intention of walking the first hundred miles towards Hamburg. On the second day, as we were passing a pleasant cottage on the outskirts of a village beyond Markrandstädt, we stopped at the sight of a young girl of fourteen, who had the tall, graceful figure, the long, free, finely shaped limbs, which are seldom seen in Northern Germany, but which are sometimes possessed by the maids of Southern Germany, near Switzerland, and often by the fair daughters of the Isle of Jersey. The child, whose face equaled her form, was in bitter woe at the loss of “ her baby brother.” When we saw the new-born babe we were surprised to find that it appeared to have been suffocated, — surprised, because Prussia was not the place for systematic child murder. But our feelings changed when we found that the parents, who had already two children, had recently moved from the borders of Upper Bavaria and Swabia, — the locality where infanticide is most prevalent. In the rich countries of Upper Bavaria, Swabia, and Central Franconia, the land, on the death of the parents, is divided among all the children. To prevent the division of their farms, which are too small to support more than one family, the peasants seldom have more than two children. On the other hand, the laborers who possess no land have large families; as is also the case among the peasants of Northern Germany, where the land goes to the eldest son.8 Peasants in Southern Germany have declared to me that it was a sin to bring children into the world only to live in poverty, and to drag down those already born from peasant affluence to misery. BaringGould writes : “ I confess to an uneasy feeling at seeing the great number of graves of babes in the church-yards ” of Southern Germany. “ Certain it is that the German day laborer has a swarm of children, and the Bauer [peasant] has few; and this is not a caprice of nature.” Riehl says : “ On the Lower Main, where subdivision has flourished in great exuberance, I know a pair of solitary villages which wage unflagging war with petty parceling. It is an unheard-of thing in those villages for marriage to yield more than two children. The communities are rich and thriving, and the pastors preach against the c.ying evil, but all in vain.” The parents of the babe, who had received their farm from an uncle, had brought with them the customs of their native home. The mother, who was of far finer mould than the ordinary peasant wife, said that her two living children were more delicate than those of her neighbors, and needed that extra care and food which they could receive only if they were the sole children. The father was a kind, stupid man, governed by his wife. B. was greatly taken with the pretty, childish ways of Marie, the young girl, and they became most devoted to one another. The quiet of the village gave B. his needed rest, and he stayed there until quite recuperated. C. also made pleasant acquaintances, and remained with B. E. and I rode back to Leipsic, and were joined by the other two some three weeks later.
In the spring also came the exciting times following the base and foolish attempts on the life of the emperor by Hoedel and Nobiling, — attempts which all of our party most sincerely lamented and condemned. Hitherto, radicalism in politics had been respected, and even popular, in Leipsic; now all was changed. We gave lectures in the Improvement Societies no longer; and the few political meetings of the Socialists were held in secret, and were not devoid of danger. With the dissolution of the Reichstag came increased activity among us, in collecting money for the coming election, in writing, etc. The pretended cause of the dissolution, as given by Bismarck, was his desire to pass the Exceptional Laws against the Socialists. The National Liberals and the Progressists had prevented the passing of those laws after the Hoedel attempt ; but after the Nobiling affair, they informed Bismarck that they would do his bidding on that question. Bismarck, however, was naturally unwilling to let this opportunity escape of striking a blow at the Liberals by means of the Socialist scare. He declared that the godless liberalism of the age was the cause of all the trouble in the country, and that the Conservatives could alone save the state. The scare was successful ; and thousands of good, gentle Liberals, who looked to their rulers for political opinions, voted as Bismarck directed. The Socialists were attacked with extreme bitterness by the National Liberals, the Progressists, the Conservatives, and the members of the Centrum ; their journals were suppressed, and their public meetings prohibited ; they were without money and patronage; yet they cast in 1878 more votes than ever before. Although they were arrested for harmless speeches, they committed no violence, even in places where they were in large majorities. Liebknecht told me that, had he and Bebel said the word, they could have held Berlin and Saxony for weeks; but, said he, “ we were the party of peace.” Although not of the Socialists, I sympathized with them in this election; their immediate aims were those of Liberals, and they were falsely charged with sympathizing with assassination. The German government would have made greater headway against Socialism, if, in place of suppressive measures, which have invariably increased the numbers of the Socialists, it had attempted to win the support of the laborers by relieving them of some of their burdens, and by promises of future assistance.
At the time of the election I was obliged to leave for England, and at about the same time our party broke up. The suppression of the Socialist journals seriously affected those of our number who contributed to them. Moreover, much as we loved the old city, ten months of continuous sojourn there had tired us. Some went to Russia, Switzerland, and different parts of Germany as private tutors, some took their degrees, and others left for different universities. When I returned to Leipsic, fifteen months later, I found there not one of my old Socialist companions. Other and younger men had our places in the Convictorium, the walls of the university seemed strange and lonely, and I was glad soon to depart. My former associates are scattered over the civilized world, from Russia to South America. C. has married the pious widow, and cares for her estates and rests in the lap of plenty ; B., I have heard, is in Siberia ; and E. still teaches in the villages of Russia. A few are leading the life of publicists, in Germany and elsewhere, aiming for future fame ; but most have gone to quiet vocations, and their present habitation is to me unknown.
- His brother was among those “administratively banished; ” that is, without trial. The October (1880) volume of the Russian Monthly Review, the Russakaya Retzsch, gives the following statistics concerning those thus banished: From 1826 to 1846, 79,909 persons; from 1867 to 1876, 78,650; from 1877 to 1878, 17,955.↩
- As there was no newspaper in Siberia before 1875, an attempt was made in that year to start the Siber. The plan was considered a revolutionary plot by the local authorities in Siberia ; criminal investigations opposed its originators; and it was only with the greatest difficulty that the journal was finally started. It continued, however, to be under the ban, and in 1879 some of its editors and correspondents were arrested, confined a year, and only released at last by Louis Melikoff, who declared that there was “ not a shadow of reason for the whole proceeding.” In the spring of 1880, the property of the Siber was destroyed by fire. The publishers were imprisoned on the charge of revolutionary incendiarism, the correspondence was seized at the post-office, and the issue was suspended. When the matter came to the tribunal, the juge d'instruction, or the local city marshal, was alone found at fault, and his conduct is to be investigated. At present, however, as far as I am informed, there is again no journal in Siberia.↩
- Then, as now, it was not uncommon for peasants to take revenge on unpopular landlords by setting fire to buildings. In 1874 there were 26,326 fires in Russia, of which 3764 were ascribed to incendiarism, and 14,882 to causes unknown. It was thought, however, that most of these last were due to the peasants. In 1877 there were 28,024 fires, entailing a loss of over 60,000,000 rubles. From September 12, 1880, to October 12, 1880, there were 2714 fires, causing a loss of 8,000,000 rubles. Of these, 415 are admitted to be the incendiary work of peasants, 697 are set down to carelessness, 287 to lightning, and the remainder to “ causes unknown.” The Russian journal whence this information is obtained is of the opinion that not less than two thirds of these last were also caused by peasants.↩
- B. used to maintain that one half of those arrested and imprisoned by the juges d’instruction were never brought to trial, but were dismissed by the procureurs, when, after months of imprisonment, their cases were finally reached. I could never believe that he was even approximately near the truth, until the following extract from the Tsowremenniga Tswestija (Contemporary News), a St. Petersburg journal, independent in politics, was brought to my notice: “ In the year 1877, the number of actions before the revising procureurs exceeded 88,000, most of which had not been brought by them, but by the juge d'instruction. Of these, the procureurs dismissed, With the subsequent sanction of the tribunals, 35,508. Meanwhile this immense number of innocent persons bad undergone not only the tribulations of criminal investigation, but the agonies of our prison régime; and all this, at the arbitrary bidding of a juge d’instruction! . . . But what wonder, if, in the eyes of our official mind, a simple policeman’s denunciation weighs heavier than all judicial sentences put together.”↩
- That their observations were not at fault appears from the following facts : In February, 1861, a royal manifest made it possible for the former serfs to buy land. For every six rubles of net yearly produce of the land the peasants paid one hundred rubles, as the price of the land. The peasants were obliged to raise twenty per cent, of this sum, and the government loaned them the other eighty per cent, at six per cent, interest. The peasants were therefore obliged to pay the government 4.8 rubles out of every six rubles of net produce. They had also to pay a head tax, which rose from 28,500,000 rubles in 1862 to 94,500,000 in 1874, and 118,671,251 in 1877. The yearly products were determined by commissions. Where government lands were purchased, tire products were placed rather high; but where lands of private parties were bought, influence and bribery induced the commission greatly to overestimate the yearly products, to the advantage of the landowners, and to the detriment of the peasants. The consequence was that the taxes on some lands were made greater than the products, while the peasants had to pay from twenty to twenty-four per cent. interest to private usurers on the twenty per cent. of price borrowed. So great was the distress of the peasants that in 1871 a commission was appointed to investigate their direct taxes. The report shows that the direct taxes of the former serfs of the crown, that is, those who purchased government lands, were 92.75 per cent, of the net return of their lands; that the direct taxes on the former serfs of private landlords were 198.25 per cent, of the net return of their lands; and that these peasants were obliged to work as day laborers for the large land-owners, in order to earn the remaining 98.25 per cent. In Saratoff District, in the Saratoff Government, there is a little town containing five hundred peasant farmers, every one of whom, it is said, is obliged at the end of harvest to start forth to beg, in order to obtain the full amount of his taxes. Jansen, Professor of Engineering in St. Petersburg University, states, in his work on Russian Statistics, that the net return of the soil of the Narva District, in the St. Petersburg Government, is 250,000 rubles, while the tax on the peasants is 400,000 rubles. The same result can be seen in another form. The reports of the Russian Ministry of Public Domains show that the production of grains of all kinds was stationary in Russia during the years 1869-1878; that is, the amount raised during the first five years was only slightly in excess of that raised during the last five years. During this period, the export of grain gradually increased, so that the amount exported in 1878 exceeded that exported in 1869 by 110,884,494 bushels. Up to 1878 there was no increase in the imports of grain. During each of these ten years there was an average increase of population of 1.1 per cent. The result is, more Russians and less grain. The question is, What classes have suffered from this decrease ? The nobles have not; while the mercantile class has grown in an unprecedented manner in Russia during the last ten years, and has consumed a larger share of grain than before. The peasants alone remain, — eighty-two per cent, of the population: these have been the losers, and have complained that their present condition is more burdensome than before their emancipation. Thrown upon their own resources, ignorant, intemperate, and imprudent, they have become the easy prey of usurers and middle-men. According to official statements, the peasant is now forced to sell his harvest immediately after it is gathered, in order to pay his taxes and his debt to the usurer ; and in the following spring he is forced to repurchase his own grain, on credit, for food and seed, at twice or three times the price at which he sold it. His land, his cows and sheep, are passing into the hands of the Jews. This may explain the frequent attacks upon the Jews in Russia. The government is well disposed towards the peasants, and has remitted some of their taxes; but it is unable to protect them from being ground finer and finer by their fast-accumulating indebtedness. What has been written here refers mainly to the emancipated peasants.↩
- Mr. James Howard, M. P., in a paper before the Farmers Club in 1870, quoted the following statements, which were made to him by Baron Elsner von Gronow, a large landed proprietor in Silesia: Wages of farm laborers in Silesia are 4d. a day in winter, 5d. in spring and autumn, and 71/2d. to lOd. in harvest, without victuals. . . . Wages are rising: twenty years ago we did not pay more than 21/2d. a day in the winter time. . . . Dwellings are found for the laborers, but they pay for the use of them a day’s pay weekly. The houses consist mostly of two rooms and a stall for a cow. Generally two or more families occupy a house.”C.’s portrayal of the state of morality in these crowded rooms must be left to the imagination of the reader.↩
- In considering the condition of the German peasants, five facts should be borne in mind. (1.) The soil of Germany as a whole is poor; and in the south, where the soil is richest, the ruinous system of small-lot farming exists. For example, the average crop of wheat per acre is in Germany fourteen bushels, and in England thirty bushels. (2.) Farming in Germany as a rule is conducted on too small a scale to be remunerative. In Prussia alone there are over four million land-owners. (3.) German farming is backward and unscientific: labor-saving machinery is seldom used; and the farming utensils are ridiculously heavy and clumsy. (4.) The German peasant, even in times of peace, must spend three years of his life as a soldier; and his direct taxes are heavy. (5.) There is greater disparity in keenness and tact between the upper and lower classes in Germany than in most countries; and as the German is harsh and selfish, this disparity lowers the wages of the peasant. He is stupid, long-suffering, and obedient, and is inclined to accept whatever wages his superiors offer him. These observations will prepare us for the following statistics. Dr. Engle has shown, by official reports, that in Prussia, in 1875, out of a population of 24,525,778, 11,572,413 had independent incomes; of the latter, 10,166,166 had less than $225 a year; and of these last, 6,582,100 had less than $105 a year. Of the whole population of Prussia, only 1,402,274 had an annual income of over $225 a year, and only 134,556 had over $750 a year.↩
- Von Goltz and Block have recently published in Berlin some statistics concerning the wages of agricultural laborers in Germany. The wages in some two hundred districts are given : the average price per day is thirty-six cents; the lowest, in the district of Appelm, is 17.5 cents; the highest, in the district of Bremen, is 59.5 cents.↩
- In 1875, a commission, appointed by the congress of German land-owners to investigate the wages of agricultural laborers in the empire, reported for some one hundred districts, and among others the following : —↩
- The average price paid during winter and summer per day, and the quantity of rye it would purchase at the average price for the last ten years, was, — In Prussia, 26.75 cents. 16.76 lbs.↩
- In Silesia (the lowest price), 20.50 cents. 11.91 lbs.↩
- In Rhine Province, 38.50 cents. 19.85 lbs.↩
- In Oldenberg (highest price), 45.00 cents. 24.26 lbs.↩
- In Mecklenburg, 40.00 cents. 22.50 lbs.↩
- If we call the wages of the American agricultural laborer $1.00 per day, he receives the equivalent of fifty-two pounds of rye.↩
- So much for the free laborers. In regard to the contract laborers, Dr. Von Goltz, who made extensive inquiries into their condition while he was Domain Administrator of Prussia, has published, with the assistance of Block, most elaborate data. The contract laborers are found in Northern Germany on the large estates of nobles. These laborers make, each year, a contract with their lords; practically they are semi-serfs, and cannot marry without consent of their masters. They are paid mainly in products of the soil, but receive also a little money. They work usually in threes : a man, his wife, and an assistant. The entire pay of these three, according to Von Goltz and Block, amounts, when estimated in money, to $217.50 per year in Mecklenburg, $227 in West Prussia, and $252.80 in Brandenburg. If the assistant is not of the family he takes some $60 from its income. Von Goltz writes that the highest of these sums cannot furnish the proper wants of a healthy family. C. told me that he had seen numbers of peasants die, whose death could be traced to insufficient nourishment : many of these were mothers, immediately after childbirth, and among them the mother of C.’s supposed child. It is fair to hear both sides of the question. A former pupil of mine in Leipsic, a noble, with large estates in Klein Plaster, Mecklenburg, Herr Friedrich Von Michael, has written to me as follows concerning the peasants on his estate: “ The contract laborer has s cottage given him for a very moderate rent, and a small plot of ground annexed, on which he can raise potatoes, fruit, etc. A larger piece of ground on the master’s land is also allotted to the laborer, on which he can cultivate flax and potatoes. The laborer owns a cow, pigs, geese, and hens; all of which are fed by the master. The salary consists of money and corn. Potatoes constitute the principal food of the laborer. The master pays for the physician and medicines, takes care of the laborer, and supports the old and infirm workmen until their death. In return for these benefits the laborer must work for his master, and for no one else, every day in the year, except Sundays and holidays. If either the master or the laborer desire to break the contract, notice is given at Easter, and the laborer leaves on the 24th of October. Such changes are, however, rare: for instance, at my home the same families have remained from generation to generation. It is true that large numbers of laborers have emigrated to America during the last few years; but this was caused not by their hardships, but by their inability to become owners of land. Although their property is sometimes quite considerable, it is insufficient to enable them to buy land. Marriage is not contracted without some difficulty, as the permission of the master is necessary. If marriages were free, the population of villages would increase so fast that there would soon he more laborers than could well work on, or be supported by, the land. If the father becomes old or ill, the son usually takes a wife and shares the residence of his parents. The real peasants, that is, the owners of a freehold, are very few in Mecklenburg. As they are independent and never work for others, they have great self-esteem. The condition of the contract laborer is not so miserable as is often represented by the foreign press. As long as he remains on the place he must be supported by the master; so, if he is laborious, orderly, and obedient, he can never fall into any real poverty or difficulty, and can lead a life quite free from care.”↩
- Below are given, for all Germany and for several of her districts, the number of children under fifteen years of age for every ten thousand iuhabitants : —↩
- Germany........................... 3449↩
- Province of Bromberg.............. 4006↩
- Province of Koslin................ 3914↩
- Province of Oppeln................ 3945↩
- Province of Upper Bavaria......... 2761↩
- Province of Bavarian Swabia....... 2896↩
- Province of Lorraine.............. 2973↩
- The first three provinces are much poorer than the last three; but in the latter the custom exists of dividing the land among all the children. In France, where the same custom exists, there are only 2706 children over fifteen years of age for every ten thousand inhabitants. These statistics are taken from Baring-Gould.↩