The description of anti-Semitism has been described as the 'socialism of fools', and attributed to August Bebel. However the one time Bebel used the phrase was to criticise it in an interview.
Translated from the German for the first time by an anonymous volunteer for libcom.org.
Anti-Semitism – An international Interview
Hermann Bahr interviews August Bebel
(Bahr:) In the Große Görschenstraße, far out there, where the city starts to end, the houses move further apart, the greens become more intense and the countryside starts to creep in. A small, quiet, bright room. Books and writings, the wall covered in simple engravings of democrats and socialists; the lionesque head of Marx more imposing than the others, then more writings and books. A happy, contemplative and gentle atmosphere of light-hearted, faithful work.
One often compares his head to that of Christ. But it is a Christ from Saxony: soft, shy, almost squeamish. The women in Ola Hansson’s works have the same tired, sad features, which have become exhausted and faded more through the small afflictions of everyday life rather than through one major misfortune.
He welcomes me with a quiet, kind warmth. The last time we saw each other was in Paris, at the socialist congress. He is not very happy to learn about the reason for my visit.
(Bebel:)“One does not always have the best experiences with interviews. It is easy to be misunderstood and not always possible to immediately make corrections. The newspapers print many a thing, which is not true at all, which is frustrating. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but we have had serious issues with it at the last congress – in that case with French journalists – and, even though we did not formally agree on it, the general mood was to refrain from doing these kinds of things in the future.”
(Bahr:) But gradually, he starts talking. He has a quiet, thoughtful style of producing his words while slightly tilting his head forwards as if meditating. It is almost like he is having amonologue with himself that I do not want to interrupt.
(Bebel:) “Someone once said to you – I think it was Kronawetter –: “Anti-Semitism is the socialism of the dumb guy.” That might be a neat thought but it is not accurate at all. The true supporters of anti-Semitism, the small business- and landowners are not wrong, from theirpoint of view. To them, capital mostly appears in the shape of the Jew. In Hesse and other parts of south-west Germany, for example, where I am familiar with the
situation, all mortgages are owned by Jews and whoever wants to buy agrarian supplies finds Jews at every market. That is how, to common people, the ills of capitalism always appear in the guise of the Jew and it is only natural that these classes, unaccustomed to brooding over the capitalist system, draw from their actual, real life experiences and fall victim to anti-Semitism. At the same time, small businesses face strong competition from Jewish corporations: clothing-, shoe- and textile-shops are almost exclusively in the hands of Jews and having to compete with them is crushing for a lot of members of this particular class.
There are different reasons when it comes to officers and state employees. A lot of them go into debt and the person giving them a loan is very often a Jew. That is where their hatred towards them comes from. Furthermore, students do not like Jews because, on the one hand, they also tend to be indebted to them, on the other hand, it seems as if Jews are simply the more hard-working students and apparently also just more intelligent as a race. All of this is more or less connected to economic circumstances. It is different in the east, where Jews are
often poor farmers or workers. The part of the Jews that come to us mostly is already a select part, the more intelligent ones, which have a bigger probability to succeed in competition. And then there is also the factor of nationality, which is lacking in the roman countries. The Spanish and the Italians have mixed far more with the Jews and are often incapable to distinguish Jews from their compatriots. For Germans, it is easy to spot Jews and hence they see them as foreigners. The question of race always becomes more important in the absence
of intellectual culture. Thus, one can fully explain anti-Semitism by simply looking at the reality of the circumstances – to which one has to add the fact that it is artificially stoked and fomented by all kinds of people.
(Bahr:) “Yes, that would explain the anti-Semitism, but it does not explain the fascination the crowds have for people like Ahlwardt, who keeps using phrases that have been proven to be slander…”
(Bebel:) “Ahlwardt only has this kind of influence because he is similar to this class of people in the way he feels and thinks. His followers are content as long as there is some truth to his accusations. And one cannot even say that they are wrong: So far, there has always been a bit of truth in his stories. There even was a bit of truth to the story of the so called “Jew-Rifles”; it has been proven in a court of law that there were irregularities – as they are everywhere. Whoever has been a worker or an entrepreneur knows this. I myself, for example, used tomake door handles and I know that from time to time a worker might miss the borehole and the whole thing slips out of place. That is why Ahlwardt did not lie but he greatly exaggerated; furthermore, his accusations have nothing to do with Löwe, who was not even tasked with taking care of the technical side. It happens to Ahlwardt all the time, that his revelations end up hurting other people far more than those he intends to hurt. That happened once again in this case. He hasn’t proven anything but it might be possible that there is some truth to his story. Ultimately it probably won’t be a Jew who is going to get blamed but Miquel, the favorite of all conservatives, the one they all would love to have as reichs-chancellor as soon as possible. That is what always happens with him. He is a confused man who does not understand the significance of his actions. Like Lieber said yesterday, it is impossible to have anything but pity for the man. What he says is without any meaning, confused stuff. What the newspapers write about his speeches sounds far too favorable. Whenever he talks, the few sentences of his that actually mean something disappear in a murky cloud of phrases. That is why the German Panama, as it has been called, will end with very little commotion. The documents he has access to are not in the hands of anyone who could actually make something of them. Furthermore, his stories are old. They have been told by Otto Glagau, Rudolf Mener and by the Reichsglocke. But it seems as if, since he is in possession of the documents, he could prove some of the things the others were just claiming. He, for example, talks about the letter of some president from Rumania to Miquel, which the latter tore to pieces and threw into the trash, where a servant found the pieces and glued them back together. In this letter, the president is alleged to confirm the payment of a sum of money, which Ahlwardt considers a bribe. Furthermore, there is the Hannover-Altenbecker train, whose share prices were artificially inflated before nationalization. For all of this he alleges to have documents. It is a different question if he knows how to utilize them. What he has said so far, he has not been able to prove. But among his people, these kinds of claims have an effect nevertheless. It is believed that there is something to them. It can only be right for us ,if the ruling classes are at war with each other and all trust is shaken and the disgust with this kind of ordering of society grows. We watch calmly and wait.”
The original text of the interview in German can be found here: