Upton Sinclair, ed. (1878–1968). rn The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest. 1915.

Trial for High Treason
(From “My Life”)

Bebel, August

August Bebel

(A German woodworker, 1840–1913, who founded the Social-democratic party, and guided it for fifty years. In the following passage from his memoirs he tells of his first imprisonment, as a part of Bismarck’s long campaign to destroy the Socialist movement in Germany)

THE JURY comprised six tradesmen, one aristocratic landowner, one head forester, and a few small landowners. The court was crowded every day. The Minister of Justice and the Attorney-General were present on several occasions. As the leading papers of Germany gave extensive reports of the trial, their readers became for the first time aware of what Socialism meant and at what it aimed. The trial thus became eminently serviceable from the propagandist point of view; and we, especially Liebknecht, who was the chief propagandist, were not loath to avail ourselves of this opportunity. But our opponents, day after day, were hard at work seeking to prejudice the jury against us, meeting them in the restaurant, when the events of the day were discussed, and exploiting these to our disadvantage.

On the thirteenth day the “pleadings” for and against us commenced. The Public Prosecutor closed his speech with the words: “If you do not find against the accused, you will sanction high treason for all time to come.”

Our counsel replied, and tore the indictment to tatters; but after two and a half hours of deliberation the jury came in with a verdict of guilty. The Public Prosecutor demanded two years’ imprisonment in a fortress, and the court passed judgment accordingly.

Our party friends were exceedingly angry on hearing the verdict and sentence; but I, feeling reckless, proposed that we should go together to Auerbach’s cellar—rendered famous by the scene in Goethe’s Faust—and have a bottle of wine. Our wives, who received us with tears, were not pleased with our levity; but finally, plucky women that they were, they came with us. My doctor consoled my wife in a curious way. “Frau Bebel,” he said, “if your husband gets a year in prison you may rejoice, for he needs a rest!”