Historical German Social Democratic Press Online

The digital edition of Vorwärts now has company. With the additional titles Freiheit, Der Sozialdemokrat and Neue Vorwärts, the Library of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) is launching the Historical German Social Democratic Press Online.

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Front pages from Sozialdemokrat, Freiheit, Neuer Vorwärts. Photo by Bibliothek der Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 DE

Read this article in German.

Since late 2017 all issues of Vorwärts [Forward], the central organ of the Social Democratic Party up to 1933, have been available online free of charge and full-text searchable. Research on the history of the German labour movement thus has an enormous and very accessible source at its disposal. Now the Library of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung is using the web infrastructure developed for Vorwärts to launch other key titles of the historical Social Democratic press.

New name, new search functions

Clearly, a web range featuring a number of titles can no longer be called Vorwärts up to 1933. We decided on the title Historical German Social Democratic Press Online (link in German) in order to define our project thematically. The more social democratic party newspapers – sometimes with different political orientations – are added to the range, the more fine-grained and comprehensive the emerging picture of the eventful history of social democracy in the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century will be.

In order to ensure that the whole thing remains manageable search functionalities have been developed further. Now, after a search has been initiated, so-called ‘facets’ are shown, clearly listing titles and volumes in which the search term was found. In this way, for example, with a few clicks a Marx researcher will be able to make their way from the many hits generated by the entry ‘Karl Marx’ to what interests them in a particular volume of a particular title. The ‘extended search’ feature has been retained in which a search can be narrowed down to a given day.

Der Sozialdemokrat [The Social Democrat]

The first of the new titles we would like to present is the weekly Der Sozialdemokrat, subtitled as "the international organ of social democracy in the German language". It appeared as a newspaper of social democratic exiles in the period of Bismarck’s anti-socialist laws between 1879 and 1890, initially in Zürich and later in London. From there it was often smuggled over the German border and distributed throughout the country. Der Sozialdemokrat closes the gap between the Leipzig Vorwärts (1876–1878) and its much larger Berlin successor, which appeared from 1891 until 1933. Apart from the first issues of 1879 and some gaps in 1880 it is already available in its entirety.

With many thanks to the municipal library of Mönchengladbach: Die Freiheit [The Freedom]

Die Freiheit was the central organ of the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD), which was founded in 1917 in protest against the so-called Burgfriedenspolitik (literally, ‘castle peace policy’) or political truce implemented by the majority Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) in the First World War. At its peak it had up to 900,000 members and was a significant political force during the initial period of the Weimar Republic. After the left wing of the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD) amalgamated with the German Communist Party (KPD) in 1920 the remainder returned to the SPD fold in 1922. At the same time, Die Freiheit, which had been a pugnacious counterpart to Vorwärts, was reabsorbed by the central organ.

Initially, issues of Die Freiheit from 1918 to 1921 will be available, to be followed shortly by those from 1922. The considerable gaps in 1919 will be closed as soon as possible. Large parts of the inventory have been made available to us for digitalisation by the municipal library of Mönchengladbach, for which we are extremely grateful.

Neue Vorwärts [The New Forward]

Neue Vorwärts appeared from mid-1933 under the aegis of the Social Democratic Party of Germany in Exile (SOPADE). From 1938 the editorial staff had to move to Paris because of the increasing pressure that the Nazis were putting on the Czech government. Neue Vorwärts continued to be issued until a few weeks before the German invasion. A detailed article on Neue Vorwärts can be found here (link in German)


The next title due for digitalisation is the predecessor of Freiheit, the information gazette of the Federation of Social Democratic Voter Associations of Berlin and Its Environs (Mitteilungs-Blatt des Verbandes der sozialdemokratischen Wahlvereine Berlins und Umgegend). Despite the unattractive title, the contents of this publication is fascinating — it provides a good understanding of the disputes between 1916 and 1918 that led to the split between the SPD and the USPD. We will provide more information on further developments in near future.


For more information on the Library of FES visit its official website (link in German).

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