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August Bebel Criticizes the Franco-Prussian War and the Annexation of Alsace-Lorraine in a Speech before the North German Reichstag (November 26, 1870)

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In my opinion, the principle of nationality is a thoroughly reactionary principle. You will admit that if we were to apply the principle of nationality in its pure form in Europe, there would be no end in sight to war; the peoples’ mission would always and exclusively be to make war, to work only to make war possible. On the basis of the principle of nationality we would have to cede Poland, return northern Schleswig, get rid of South Tyrol and Trento, and relinquish many Slavic-speaking regions; on the other hand, we would have to annex parts of Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Belgium. As I have already mentioned, according to the principle of nationality, we would not be able to get out of war. The peoples would tear each other apart until the end of time. Nationality means but little; in my view, it has merely a secondary importance for the political life of a state. The highest and most fundamental idea in the political life of a state must be the internal satisfaction of peoples through their institutions, their right to self-determination. Two countries in the world offer the clearest proof of this: Switzerland and America. In Switzerland you find Italians, Frenchmen, and Germans living quietly side by side; nowhere are they asked to become Italians, Frenchmen, or Germans. In the great republic across the ocean you will find the same constellation; Englishmen, Frenchmen, and Germans live quietly and peacefully side by side and get along. (Shouts on the right: Sonderbundskrieg!*)

That war was not a national war but a war of freedom against lack of freedom, and it was directed squarely against your party – a necessity. (Shouting: That’s enough!)

The Speaker of the Reichstag: I would like to remind you once again of the need to exercise self-restraint during your remarks.

Deputy Bebel: But I believe, Honorable Speaker, that I have not yet overstepped that self-restraint.

So in my opinion, Gentlemen, Germany will not benefit from carrying out the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine. On the contrary, it will do much to contribute to prolonging hostility between two of the noblest nations; for the fact that the French nation is just as noble a nation as the German one has been confirmed again by the king's last address to parliament. One should note, though, Gentlemen, that the official press, having launched the most vicious attacks at the start of the war against Louis Bonaparte (an arch-rascal and the greatest criminal on any European throne), then defended him only a few weeks later, after he had been toppled, and attempted to substantiate the sole responsibility of the French nation and naturally poured all imaginable angry filth onto the French people. Allegedly there can be no worse, more demoralized, more corrupt people than the French – and the previous speaker has

* The Sonderbundskrieg was a civil war declared by conservative Catholic Swiss cantons against liberal-radical cantons in 1847. The liberal-radical cantons prevailed – trans.

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