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Adolf Stoecker (December 11, 1835 – February 2, 1909) was the court chaplain to Kaiser Wilhelm II, a politician, and a German Lutheran theologian who founded one of the first Christian Social Gospel political parties in Germany, the Christian Social Party.
A staunch Protestant, Stoecker was a believer in German cultural Protestantism. His theology was combined with a political philosophy which believed that German culture was being corrupted by materialistic economic dogma. A favorite theme in his sermons and speeches was that the new capitalist system was allowing the rapid centralized accumulation of capital in a small group of individuals, thereby increasing wealth disparities, upsetting social order, and de-Christianizing the German nation. Upset with the dislocating socio-economic effects brought on by rapid industrialization and the new capitalist system, he called for German society to rededicate itself to Christian faith and return to Germanic rule in law and business. Overtime he increasingly laid blame on this cultural change on Jewish capitalists, becoming one of the early propagators of Jewish conspiracy theories, and so becoming one of the early leaders of modern anti-semitic philosophy.
As Parliamentary democracy spread throughout Germany, and in particular Prussia, Stoecker saw the need for mobilizing grass-roots support for his reforming agenda. In 1878, Stoecker founded the Christian Social Party (CSP). In keeping with the sectarian lines in politics then prevalent throughout Europe, and focused on restoring a Christian and progressive orientation in society, the party was exclusively Christian. The early strategy of the party was in combating the influence of materialistic radical Marxist Social Democracy among workers. However, by the 1870s, the anti-nationalist and anti-Christian movement of the First Communist International and leftist Socialists had already had nearly three decades of organizational development within the broad socialist movement. Additionally, the party's Christian and Nationalist message as well as its ties to the royal court, caused it to be considered a significant threat to the left. As a result, its efforts at organizing a Christian Socialist Progressive movement within socialism was met with bitter resistance. Consequently the party at first enjoyed little success, and in the 1878 elections it obtained less than 1% of the vote.
However, as its representatives within the socialist movement become more and more openly persecuted, investigation by Stoecker showed a predominant Jewish Communist and Anti-Christian element was behind the attacks. Stoecker therefore began openly discussing his conclusions of there existing a Jewish conspiracy. To his initial surprise, he found his message resonated strongly with his audience of workers. Thus, while antisemitism was a minor theme in the party's early stages, Stoecker saw that the party gained in popularity after it adopted a more aggressive antisemitic agenda. In turn, with increasing backing and a larger audience, he used the party as a platform to attack Jews and publicize his findings and solutions.
Stoecker believed that Jewish Emancipation and integration had worsened the effects of the new capitalist system by allowing Jewish capital to increase its holdings and influence. Stoecker proposed that Jews' innate anti-Christianity and foreign origin made it impossible for them being properly integrated without secularizing the rest of society and watering down German national values. In Stoecker's opinion this only aggravated the problems caused by capital centralization and rapid industrialization. Therefore, Stoecker proposed first severely limiting the civil rights of Jews in Germany and returning them to a position where their ability to use their wealth in influencing the new Parliamentary democracy would be limited, so allowing a chance for Parliamentary democracy to reform the new social order back towards traditional German values. In September 1879, he delivered a speech entitled "What we demand of modern Jewry", in which he spelled out several demands of German Jews, among them:
- that Jews renounce their ambition to financially control Germany,
- that the Jewish press cease its bigoted attacks on German culture and become more tolerant
- that quotas be placed on the number of Jews in certain professions and universities, especially those with overt Christian missions.
While Stoecker's speeches and his organizing gave the CSP great successes in his region, the CSP never united behind his agenda, especially in regards to making the discussion of the Jewish question a central tenet. Furthermore, his successes in Prussia, where the landed aristocracy remained powerful, were viewed with concern, given his mobilization of the industrial working classes. Additionally, his proximity to the royal court, which relied upon significant Jewish financial support was seen as upsetting and embarrassing to the ruling court. Given that his support in the Reichstag relied heavily on this conservative aristocratic support, his position was tenuous. Thus, when the Conservative Party withdrew its support from Adolf Stoecker he was forced from the coalition government and eventually lost his seat.
Stoecker continued to draw significant crowds because of his Christian Social Gospel and Jewish Question sermons and speeches, remaining an influential figure both in the socialist movement and the growing anti-Semitic movement. Stoecker died on February 2, 1909 in Bozen Gries (German pronunciation: [ˈboːtsən ˈɡriːəs]), South Tyrol, Austria-Hungary.
- Ben-Sasson, H.H., ed. (1976): A History of the Jewish People. (Harvard University Press, Cambridge). ISBN 0-674-39730-4, p.875
- Harold M. Green (2003). "Adolf Stoecker: Portrait of a Demagogue". Politics & Policy. 31 (1): 106–129.
- D. A. Jeremy Telman (1995). "Adolf Stoecker: Anti-Semite with a Christian mission". Jewish History. 9 (2): 93–112. doi:10.1007/BF01668991.