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Official publication of the first Anti-Socialist Law, 1878

The Anti-Socialist Laws or Socialist Laws (German: Sozialistengesetze; officially Gesetz gegen die gemeingefährlichen Bestrebungen der Sozialdemokratie, approximately "Law against the public danger of Social Democratic endeavours") were a series of acts, the first of which was passed on October 19, 1878 by the German Reichstag for a limited term, and the later ones regularly extending the term of its application. The legislation was passed after two failed attempts to assassinate Kaiser Wilhelm I by the radicals Max Hödel and Dr. Karl Nobiling; it was meant to curb the growing strength of the Social Democratic Party (SPD, named SAP at the time), which was blamed for influencing the assassins. Although the law did not ban the SPD directly, it aimed to cripple the organisation through various means. The banning of any group or meeting of whose aims were to spread socialist principles, the outlawing of trade unions and the closing of 45 newspapers are examples of suppression. The party circumvented these measures by having its candidates run as ostensible independents, by relocating publications outside of Germany and by spreading Social Democratic views as verbatim publications of Reichstag speeches, which were privileged speech with regard to censorship. The laws' main proponent was Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who feared the outbreak of a socialist revolution similar to the one that created the Paris Commune in 1871. Despite the government's attempts to weaken the SPD, the party continued to grow in popularity. A bill introduced by Bismarck in 1888 which would have allowed for the denaturalization of Social Democrats was rejected. After Bismarck's resignation in 1890, the Reichstag did not renew the legislation, allowing it to lapse.

Some notable Social Democrat members of the Reichstag in the Anti-Socialist Laws era

Further reading

  • Vernon L. Lidtke, The Outlawed Party: Social Democracy in Germany, 1878-1890 (Princeton University Press, 1966). ISBN 978-0-691-05141-3

See also

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