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1876-1892 - Anti-Semitism Ascendant

It was in the passions of party politics that the new crusade found its chief sources of vitality. The enemies of the bourgeoisie at once saw that the movement was calculated to discredit and weaken the school of Manchester Liberalism, then in the ascendant. Agrarian capitalism, which had been dethroned by industrial capitalism in 1848, and had burnt its fingers in 1873, seized the opportunity of paying off old scores. The clericals, smarting under the Kulturkampf, which was supported by the whole body of Jewish liberalism, joined eagerly in the new cry. In 1876 another sensational pamphlet was published, Otto Glogau's Die Brsen und Grunder gcsckwindei in Berlin ("The Bourses and the Company Swindles in Berlin"), dealing in detail with the Jewish participation in the scandals first revealed by Lasker. The agitation gradually swelled, its growth being helped by the sensitiveness of the Jews themselves, who contributed two pamphlets and a much larger proportion of newspaper articles for every one supplied by their opponents. Up to 1879, however, it was more of a literary than a political agitation, and was generally regarded only as an ephemeral craze or a passing spasm of popular passion.

Towards the end of 1879 it spread with sudden fury over the whole of Germany. This outburst, at a moment when no new financial scandals or other illustrations of Semitic demoralization and domination were before the public, has never been fully explained. It is impossible to doubt, however, that the secret springs of the new agitation were more or less directly supplied by Prince Bismarck himself. Since 1877 the relations between the chancellor and the National Liberals had gradually become strained. The deficit in the budget had compelled the government to think of new taxes, and in order to carry them through the Reichstag ihc support of the National Liberals had been solicited. Until then the National Liberals had faithfully supported the chancellor in nursing the consolidation of the new empire, but the great dream of its leaders, especially of Laskcr and Bamberger, who had learnt their politics in England, was to obtain a constitutional and economic regime similar to that of the British Isles. The organisation of German unity was now completed, and they regarded the new overtures of Prince Bismarck ?? an opportunity for pressing their constitutional demands. These were refused, the Reichstag was dissolved aud Prince Bismarck boldly came forward with a new fiscal policy, a combination of protection and state socialism.

Lasker and Bamberger thereupon led a powerful secession of National Liberals into opposition, and the chancellor was compelled to seek a new majority among the ultra-Conservatives and the Roman Catholic Center. This was the beginning of the famous "journey to Canossa." Bismarck did not hide his mortification. He began to recognize in anti-Semitism a means of "dishing" the Judaized liberals, and to his creatures who assisted him in his press campaigns he dropped significant hints in this sense. He even spoke of a new Kulturkampf against the Jews. How these hints were acted upon was not revealed, but it is sufficiently instructive to notice that the final breach with the National Liberals took place in July 1879, and that it was immediately followed by a violent revival of the anti-Semitic agitation. Marr's pamphlet was reprinted, and within a few months ran through nine further editions. The historian Treibchke gave the sanction of his great name to the movement. The Conservative and Ultramontane press rang with the sins of the Jews. In October 1879 an anti-Semitic league was founded in Berlin and Dresden.

The leadership of the agitation was now definitely assumed by a man who combined with social influence, oratorical power and inexhaustible energy, a definite scheme of social regeneration and an organization for carrying it out. This man was Adolf Stcker (b. 1835), one of the court preachers. He had embraced the doctrines of Christian socialism which the Roman Catholics, under the guidance of Archbishop Kettelcr, had adopted from the teachings of the Jew Lassalle, and he had formed a society called "The Christian Social Workingman's Union." He was also a conspicuous member of the Prussian diet, where he sat and voted with the Conservatives. He found himself in strong sympathy with Prince Bismarck's new economic policy, which, although also of Lassallian origin , was claimed by its author as being essentially Christian.

Under his auspices the years 1880-1881 became a period of bitter and scandalous conflict with the Jews. The Conservatives supported him, partly to satisfy their old grudges against the Liberal bourgeoisie and partly because Christian Socialism, with its anti-Semitic appeal to ignorant prejudice, was likely to weaken the hold of the Social Democrats on the lower classes. The Lutheran clergy followed suit, in order to prevent the Roman Catholics from obtaining a monopoly of Christian Socialism, while the Ultramontanes readily adopted anti-Semitism, partly to maintain their monopoly, and partly to avenge themselves on the Jewish and Liberal supporters of the Kulturkampf. In this way a formidable body of public opinion was recruited for the anti-Semites. Violent debates took place in the Prussian diet.

A petition to exclude the Jews from the national schools and universities and to disable them from holding public appointments was presented to Prince Bismarck. Jews were boycotted and insulted. Duels between Jews and anti-Semites, many of them fatal, became of daily occurrence. Even unruly demonstrations and street rials were reported. Pamphlets attacking every phase and aspect of Jewish life streamed by the hundred from the printing-press.

On their side the Jews did not want for friends, and it was owing to the strong attitude adopted by the Liberals that the agitation failed to secure legislative fruition. The crown prince (afterwards Emperor Frederick) and crown princess boldly set themselves at the head of the party of protest. The crown prince publicly declared that the agitation was "a shame and a disgrace to Germany." A manifesto denouncing the movement as a blot on German culture, a danger to German unity and a flagrant injustice to the Jews themselves, was signed in November 1880 by a long list of illustrious men, including Herr von Forckenbcck, Professors Mommsen, Gneist, Droysen, Virchow, and Dr Werner Siemens. During the Reichstag elections of 1881 the agitation played an active part, but without much effect, although Stocker was elected. This was due to the fact that the great Conservative parties, so far as their political organizations were concerned, still remained chary of publicly identifying themselves with a movement which, in its essence, was of socialistic tendency. Hence the electoral returns of that year supplied no sure guide to the strength of anti-Semitic opinion among the German people.

The first severe blow suffered by the German anti-Semites was in 1881, when, to the indignation of the whole civilized world, the barbarous riots against the Jews in Russia and the revival of the medieval Blood Accusation in Hungary illustrated the liability of unreasoning mobs to carry into violent practice the incendiary doctrines of the new Jew-haters. From this blow anti-Semitism might have recovered had it not been for the divisions and scandals in its own ranks, and the artificial forms it subsequently assumed through factitious alliances with political parties bent less on persecuting the Jews than on profiting by the anti-Jewish agitation. The divisions showed themselves at the first attempt to form a political party on an anti-Semitic basis.

Imperceptibly the agitators had grouped themselves into two classes, economic and ethnological anti-Semites. The impracticable racial views of Marr and Treitschke had not found favor with Stcker and the Christian Socialists. They were disposed to leave the Jews in peace so long as they behaved themselves properly, and although they carried on their agitation against Jewish malpractices in a comprehensive form which seemed superficially to identify them with the root-and-branch anti-Semites, they were in reality not inclined to accept the racial theory with its scheme of revived Jewish disabilities.

This feeling was strengthened by a tendency on the part of an extreme wing of the racial anti-Semites to extend their campaign against Judaism to its offspring, Christianity. In 1879 Professor Sepp, arguing that Jesus was of no human race, had proposed that Christianity should reject the Hebrew Scriptures and seek a fresh historical basis in the cuneiform inscriptions. Later Dr Eugen Dhring, in several brochures, notably "Die Judenfrage als Frage des Rassencharakters" (1881, Berlin), had attacked Christianity as a manifestation of the Semitic spirit which was not compatible with the theological and ethical conceptions of the Scandinavian peoples. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had also adopted the same view, without noticing that it was a reduto ad absurdurm of the whole agitation, in his Menschliches, Allzwnenschliches (1878), Jenseits von Cut und Bse (1886), Genealogie der Moral (1887).

With these tendencies the Christian Socialists could have no sympathy, and the consequence was that when in March 1881 a political organization of anti-Semitism was attempted, two rival bodies were created, the "Deutsche Volksverein," under the Conservative auspices of Herr Lcbermann von Sonnenberg (b. 1848) and Herr Frster, and the "Sociale Reichsverein," led by the racial and Radical anti-Semites, Ernst Henrici (b. 1854) and Otto Bckel (b. 1859). In 1886, at an anti-Semitic congress held at Cassel a reunion was effected under the name of the "Deutsche antisemitische Verein," but this only lasted three years. In June 1889 the anti-Semitic Christian Socialists under Stocker again seceded.

Meanwhile racial anti-Semitism with its wholesale radical proposals had been making considerable progress among the ignorant lower classes. It adapted itself better to popular passions and inherited prejudice than the more academic conceptions of the Christian Socialists. The latter, too, were largely Conservatives, and their points of contact with the proletariat were at best artificial. Among the Hessian peasantry the inflammatory appeals of Bockel secured many adherents.

This paved the way for a new anti-Semitic leader, Herrmann Ahlwardt (b. 1846), who, towards the end of the 1880s, eclipsed all the other anti-Semites by the sensationalism and violence with which he prosecuted the campaign. Ahlwardt was a person of evil notoriety. He was loaded with debt. In the Manche decoration scandals it was proved that he had acted first as a corrupt intermediary and afterwards as the betrayer of his confederates. His anti-Semitism was adopted originally as a means of chantage, and it was only when it failed to yield profit in this form that he came out boldly as an agitator. The wildncss, unscrupulousness, and full-bloodcdness of his propaganda enchanted the mob, and he bid fair to become a powerful democratic leader. His pamphlets, full of scandalous revelations of alleged malpractices of eminent Jews, were read with avidity. No fewer than ten of them were written and published during 1892. Over and over again he was prosecuted for libel and convicted, but this seemed only to strengthen his influence with his followers.

The Roman Catholic clergy and newspapers helped to inflame the popular passions. The result was that anti-Jewish riots broke out. At Neusteltin the Jewish synagogue was burnt, and at Kanten the Blood Accusation was revived, and a Jewish butcher was tried on the ancient charge of murdering a Christian child for ritual purposes. The man was, of course, acquitted, but the symptoms it revealed of reviving medievalism strongly stirred the liberal and cultured mind of Germany. All protest, however, seemed powerless, and the barbarian movement appeared destined to carry everything before it.

German politics at this moment were in a very intricate state. Prince Bismarck had retired, and Count Caprivi, with a program of general conciliation based on Liberal principles, was in power. Alarmed by the non-renewal of the anti-Socialist law, and by the conclusion of commercial treaties which made great concessions to German industry, the landed gentry and the Conservative party became alienated from the new chancellor. In January 1892 the split was completed by the withdrawal by the government of the Primary Education bill, which had been designed to place primary instruction on a religious basis.

The Conservatives saw their opportunity of posing as the party of Christianity against the Liberals and Socialists, who had wrecked the bill, and they began to look towards Ahlwardt as a possible ally. He had the advantages over Stcker that he was not a Socialist, and that he was prepared to lead his apparently large following to assist the agrarian movement and weaken the Social Democrats. The intrigue gradually came to light. Towards the end of 1892 Herr Liebknecht, the Social Democratic leader, denounced the Conservatives to the Reichstag as being concerned "in using the anti-Semitic movement as a bastard edition of Socialism for the use of stupid people." (1st December). Two days later the charge was confirmed. At a meeting of the party held on the 3rd of December 1892 the following plank was added to the Conservative program: "We combat the oppressive and disintegrating Jewish influence on our national life; we demand for our Christian people a Christian magistracy and Christian teachers for Christian pupils; we repudiate the excesses of anti-Semitism."

In pursuance of the resolution Ahlwardt was returned to the Reichstag at a by-election by the Conservative district of Arnswalde-Friedebcrg. The coalition was, however, not yet completed. The intransigeant Conservatives, led by Baron von Hammerstein, the editor of the Kreuz-Zeitung, justly felt that the concluding sentence of the resolution of the 3rd of December repudiating "the excesses of anti-Semitism" was calculated to hinder a full and loyal cooperation between the two parties. Accordingly on the 9th of December another meeting of the party was summoned. Twelve hundred members met at the Tivoli Hall in Berlin, and with only seven dissentients solemnly expunged the offending sentence from the resolution. The history of political parties may be searched in vain for a parallel to this discreditable transaction.

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Page last modified: 07-08-2012 19:00:23 ZULU