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 German Social Democracy  (1896)*

By Bertrand Russell

Lecture V

The Organisation, Agitation, Tactics, and Programme of Social Democracy Since the Fall of the Socialist Law

[p.116] With the expiration of the Socialist Law, three main questions arose out of the altered circumstances of the party, that of their future tactics, of the reform of their programme, and of the organisation to be adopted in future. The first two of their Party Congresses, which could now be held in Germany in all publicity, were almost wholly concerned with these three points. The first Congress, that of Halle, met twelve days after the expiration of the law, in a festively-decorated hall containing the image of Freedom, and portraits of Marx and Lassalle over the tribune, and pictures, surrounded with garlands, of the leaders who had died in the meantime. Here the delegates congratulated each other on their deliverance, and here they set to work to build up afresh, on a larger scale than before, the organisation which the persecution had shattered.

I. Organisation. — The new organisation was a masterpiece of ingenuity and efficiency. The task of organising is, in Germany, a very different task from any that could be imagined in England. For the question to be solved is not, what organisation [p.117] will be most effectual? but, what organisation will evade the Coalition Laws of the different states? This evasion is the determining motive of the whole system, and the Coalition Laws must be understood before its raison d'être can be grasped.

Of the wanton severity of these iniquitous laws it is difficult for Englishmen, except by watching their actual operation, to form any conception. Most of them were passed in or about 1850, the year of reaction, but successive interpretations, by a generation of servile legal ingenuity, have rendered their present meaning far more galling than that borne by their obvious interpretation. They differ in every state, but in the three most important states, Prussia, Saxony, and Bavaria, they are fairly similar. I will take the Prussian law — which is very far from being the worst — as my text, and indicate important differences in other states as occasion arises.

The Prussian law is designed, as its title informs us, to prevent the misuse, dangerous to legal freedom (sic) and order, of the right of meeting and combination. By its provisions, any society which is designed to consider public affairs is subject to the following restrictions. Its existence, its rules, and the description of its members must be notified to the police, within three days of its foundation, by its officers or other management; any subsequent change of rules must be similarly notified. Societies whose existence, purpose, or constitution is secret, which demand obedience to unknown persons, or unconditional obedience to any one, are illegal, and all their members are punishable. Servants, sailors, and agricultural labourers [p.118] are forbidden to combine for the purpose of influencing their employers in any way. This restriction used to apply also to miners and artisans; but among these, Trade Unions are now tolerated by the law. In some states there is an elastic paragraph, forbidding societies which have any “immoral purpose.” As an illustration of the interpretation of this clause, I may instance a case which occurred in Saxony. A union, which had a rule that its members should not work overtime, expelled a member who transgressed this rule. This was regarded as an immoral interference with personal liberty (!) and the union was dissolved. State employees, including those in railways and State mines, must not belong to any society systematically opposed to the Government.

Any non-political association, e.g., a Trade Union, can be, and is dissolved, if it touches on public affairs, and the police may examine even the statutes of non-political associations.

Political associations which call meetings must not (1) “contain or allow in their meetings any women, scholars, or apprentices;” or (2) “enter into connection with other associations, even if these be non-political, for any common purpose, whether by letters, committees, central organs or officers, or in any other way.”

The second of these restrictions exists in almost all the states; the first, which applies also to political associations of women, or students only, exists in Prussia, Bavaria, Brunswick, and some smaller states. It prevents the presence of women, scholars, and apprentices, even in non-political meetings, such as balls or social evenings.

[p.119] As regards the definition of an association (Verein), it is constituted by any voluntary union of several people, for a common purpose under a common management. Three people have, in some cases, been regarded as a sufficient number. If the other qualities of an association exist, without the management, the law is not evaded, but punishes the members for having no management. Commissions or committees, if they have any durable functions, count as associations.1

An association need never have met, need not have any particular number of members, and membership does not presuppose a knowledge of its purposes. If an association extends over more than one police-district — a case regarded by the law as abnormal — notice of its constitution must be given to the police of each district. If the members of one district have any independent activity, even a meeting, they form a branch-association, which has to give separate notice, and a connection between two such branches is interpreted as illegal, under the above provisions. We have next to consider the definition of politics or public affairs, which is equally liberal. These include communal, ecclesiastical, and religious affairs, as also social questions of any wide scope. Thus, for example, a trade union becomes political, as soon as it considers the conditions [p.120] which determine wages in general, or even the wages of its own trade as a whole. In Saxony, all trade unions are regarded as political, and are therefore subject to the restrictions imposed on political associations.

So much for the right of association; the right of meeting, which is declared by the Prussian Constitution to be permitted to all Prussians without police permission, must be next considered. As regards the definition of a meeting, it is simple: anything is a meeting which assembles, at a particular place and time, for any common purpose. It need not have a chairman, it need not have been previously called, it need not consist of any particular number of people; it need not even, as I was told by a waggish lawyer, be aware that it is a meeting. Nevertheless, if it is a meeting, but has no chairman, it is punishable. If a meeting is to discuss public affairs, forty-eight hours’ notice must be given to the police, and one or two representatives of the police must be present, to give an official report of the proceedings to the authorities. In Saxony, a meeting may be forbidden if danger to public order is to be feared from it, and the police, in this respect, show themselves remarkably timorous.

A meeting may not pass any resolution under a collective name, nor may a collection of money be proposed, while the meeting is taking place. Open-air meetings and processions are forbidden altogether in some states; in the rest, including Prussia, they require forty-eight hours’ notice, and may be forbidden without assigned reason. Anything in the open air is a procession, if it attracts general [p.121] attention. Moreover, invitations to an open-air meeting cannot be given, until permission to hold it has been obtained, and, as the police need not give permission within any stated time, the right to meet can thus be rendered nugatory.

It must be borne in mind that the Coalition Laws, though transgressed with impunity by every other party, are always interpreted, where Social Democracy is concerned, with the utmost severity of which they are susceptible; thus, Prussian trade unions, whose members are almost all Social Democrats, cannot in any way take part in the political agitation, and therefore lose half the vigour and interest which characterise trade unions in England.

The only important exceptions to the law are the members of any party in the Reichstag, and the local electoral associations, designed solely to influence the elections in a particular constituency. But even these latter become illegal as soon as they combine with any other political organisation.

Under these circumstances, it will be seen that the formation of a legal organisation, extending over the whole country, and having branches in separate localities, is a problem of great difficulty, whose solution requires no ordinary ingenuity. At the discussion of the Party Congress in 1890, many were for giving up the attempt, and most proposals had to be rejected as illegal. A solution was, however, finally arrived at, which has hitherto succeeded in outwitting the crown jurists.

The party has no fixed membership, but acknowledges as a Genosse, or comrade, everyone who agrees [p.122] with the programme, and supports the party according to his powers. The members, thus loosely defined, do not constitute an association, and can therefore choose, in the separate parliamentary constituencies, delegates to the Parteitag, or Annual Congress. No constituency may choose more than three delegates, but otherwise there is no restriction as to number or sex, it being understood, that only those places where Social Democracy is strong will send more than one delegate. If no women are chosen in this way, they may be chosen by separate women’s meetings.

The Annual Congress further contains the Socialist members of the Reichstag, and the members of the party executive (Parteileitung). The latter formed the permanent central government of the party, and were chosen by the Congress. It consisted of two presidents, two secretaries, a treasurer, and seven members of committee. The presidents were paid 50 marks (£ 2, 10s.) a month each, the secretaries and treasurer 150 marks (£ 7, 10s.) each; they had to reside in Berlin, and were expected to live chiefly by their private earnings.

This central government had no recognised connection with the local organisations, which, to gain the benefit of the law, consist of electoral associations in the separate constituencies. These contain only the more active local members of the party, and have a president, secretary, and treasurer of their own. But besides these officers, there exists a Vertrauensperson, or confidential agent, chosen, not by the electoral association, but by a public meeting, called by a private member of the party, and open, theoretically, to members of every political party. [p.123] Practically, however, good care is taken that only Genossen are present, and the man or woman chosen becomes the most important of the local members. But as he has no official connection with any organisation whatever, he is able to carry on correspondence with the central Party Government, and so to form the connecting link between the localities and the Central Executive. It is his duty to collect money for the party, to distribute literature — especially forbidden literature and agitation-leaflets — and to communicate the wishes of the Central Government to his locality.

The method of collecting money — on which subject the law has many vexatious regulations — is as simple as it is excellent. The Party prints large numbers of bons, as they are called; they look like postage stamps, and have printed on them S. P. D., 10 pf. These are issued to the various confidential agents, who distribute them among trustworthy persons. The latter then dispose of them by ones and twos at meetings, in ordinary talk, or at any convenient opportunity, at the rate of 10 pf. for each. Thus small sums can be easily collected, and the number of bons sold is an automatic record of the receipts, which saves the complicated accounts otherwise necessary for such small sums.

The collectors give all the money they have obtained to the confidential agent of their locality, and he pays it into the Party funds. In case of fraudulence on the part of the collectors, the confidential agent has of course no legal remedy, but is compelled to make tip the missing sum out of his own pocket. Thus all depends on the self-sacrifice, honesty, and diligence of the individual [p.124] members, and in this respect, I believe, their public spirit leaves little to be desired. 2

In the distribution of literature and leaflets, also, the confidential agent’s personal knowledge of the members is of supreme importance. So efficient is the organisation in this respect, that the Socialists boast of being able to flood all Berlin with agitation leaflets in two hours. This is not so easy a task as in London, for distribution of leaflets, announcements of meetings, etc., are only allowed in private rooms; they must be given separately to all the inhabitants of a house divided into flats, and may not be left with the hall porter or distributed in the hall, nor must they be distributed in shops, or other places to which the public have access. In country districts, where there are fewer members, the machine is, of course, much more imperfect; it is still a question here of pioneer agitation by public meetings, and private propaganda by special emissaries. But wherever there are enough members to form the framework of an organisation, there the organisation is sure to be excellent.

I have still to mention one essential point. The organisation of the party, as we have seen, is legal, but the administration of the law is illegal. [p.125] Consequently, on the 29th of November 1895, the Party Government, the Press Committee, and the six Berlin electoral associations were dissolved by the police. This occurred as the result of a simultaneous raid on the houses of eighty leading Social Democrats, in which the police searched through all the cupboards, under the beds, and even in the ash-bins; illegally confiscated all the bons and every scrap of paper they could find, written and printed.

Their excuse for closing the above organisations lay in regarding the Berlin Confidential Agents as an association; which they explicitly and definitely are not. The Social Democrats, more used to these methods than I, had never hoped to form an organisation which would stand permanently. After the raid, I met one of the leaders of the party, and asked if the police could find any ground for dissolving the organisation. “The police can do everything,” he replied; “merely to ask such a question is a libel on the Government.” And this proved to be the truth. 3

On the occasion of this decision the Vossische Zeitung (December 1st), the most respectable of bourgeois papers, the Times of Germany, remarked: —

“If the closing of the associations is confirmed, the whole Social Democratic organisation will be destroyed thereby. It is remarkable that it has taken the police more than five years to recognise the illegality of the Social Democratic organisation. This organisation was proposed, in all publicity, at the first party Congress after the fall of the Socialist Law, which took place at Halle in October 1890. [p.126] It was then emphatically said that offences against the Prussian law of coalition must be carefully avoided. The closing of the organisation, also, is only rendered possible by the police regarding single committees as associations in the meaning of the law. Thus the announcement of the president of police speaks of an association of ‘public confidential agents.’ Of such an association people have hitherto known nothing.… The committee for choosing meeting places (Lokalkommission), which is also designated as an association, consists, if we are not mistaken, of three people.… Strange to say, the Central Government of the Social Democratic Party is also regarded as an association.… In the legal proceedings, the principal question will probably be, if all these arrangements are to be regarded as associations. The question has a general importance, as, in case of an affirmative answer, all other political parties will be hit. For a Party Government, confidential agents and local associations are possessed by all parties, and that these should have a connection with each other is of the essence of the matter. Also, if the closing of the Social Democratic Associations is confirmed, it will do little harm to Social Democracy. The Party would, at most, transfer its government to a more hospitable state, or to a foreign country. A weakening of Social Democracy is not to be expected from it.”
That the dissolution will do no harm to Social Democracy seems certain, for by tradition from the time of the Socialist Law, the central authority immediately becomes vested in the members of the Reichstag — the fraction, as they are called. Now most of the members of the dissolved Party Government, notably the two presidents, the two secretaries, and the treasurer are members of Parliament: these can therefore carry on business as before, and nothing is really changed. The Party chest has [p.127] been moved to Hamburg, where there is much greater freedom than in Prussia. The Berlin organisation has been restored by a masterly stroke of policy. On December 9, 1895, twelve public meetings were advertised to take place in all parts of Berlin, at which twelve of the leading Socialist M.P.s were to speak. These were not called officially by the Party, but simply advertised “to consider the position to be taken, in view of the dissolution of the Social Democratic Organisation.” At the end of the meetings, without a word of warning to any one, a resolution was proposed, protesting against the dissolution, and proposing the election, then and there, of a new confidential agent. At this point, one of these meetings, at which I had the good fortune to be present, was dissolved by the policeman; the rest succeeded, however, in the election, against which, obviously, the law could have no valid objection. By this step the police were not allowed time to consider, and the essential part of the Berlin Organisation was restored.

II. Agitation. — The methods of agitation and propaganda have been admirably described, as they exist in ordinary manufacturing districts, by a Christian Socialist. Paul Göhre, in his book Drei Monate Fabrikarbeiter. Göhre was a student of theology who worked for three months as a factory hand at Chemnitz, in Saxony, and thus became intimately acquainted with the life of the ordinary workingman. Although his observations were made just before the expiration of the Exceptional Law, they were made after its administration had become very lax, and are, so far as I could discover by my [p.128] own observations and inquiries, substantially true of the agitation as it exists to-day. In the following account, almost everything not derivable from official reports, or from my own observations, is taken from this interesting work.

Probably the most effectual of all means of propaganda is the Socialist Press, which is cheap and very widely circulated. There are at present

39 papers appearing daily,
20 papers appearing thrice a week,
8 papers appearing twice a week,
9 papers appearing once a week,
besides a scientific review, Die neue Zeit, and two comic papers, which last have by no means the smallest missionary power. Almost all these papers have a wide circulation; from the official daily organ, Vorwärts, which has a circulation of about 48,000, the Party funds derive an annual profit of over 55,000 marks (£ 2750). Besides newspapers, the Party publishes an immense number of cheap tracts, mostly costing one penny. These contain popular versions of Marx, clear and concise accounts of current questions and current legislation, biting diatribes against Government finance, indirect taxation, military expenditure, etc. — in short, everything best calculated to show that Social Democracy is the working-man’s party. Owing to the literary character of the German working-man, these leaflets — often very solid reading — have a much greater effect than an Englishman would naturally expect. People who have come up to Berlin send them, with the Party papers, to their relations in the country, [p.129] and these hand them round among the rural population. Thus everybody hears of the Socialists as the proletariat party, and when an agitator holds a country meeting, people are interested and go to hear what he has to say.

The next greatest weapon of agitation, after the press, is the public meeting. In Berlin, there is a Socialist meeting almost every night; sometimes two or three. Working-men, often with their wives and families, sit at tables, drinking beer and smoking cheap cigars; the meeting cannot begin till the police arrive, which usually happens about half an hour after the advertised time. Then someone rings a bell, and says “I declare this meeting opened. I request the Parteigenossen to choose a bureau” (consisting usually of two presidents and a secretary). Then someone gets up and proposes in a hurried tone three men — or sometimes two men and a woman — who are instantly accepted, and take their places on the platform. These forms are necessitated by the law, and are gone through with the utmost haste. The newly-elected chairman then rapidly calls on the speaker of the evening, who speaks, usually, for an hour or more. He receives little applause, but the closest and most earnest attention. At the end, there is never a vote of thanks, but usually a discussion, in general most orderly and quiet — indeed the whole proceeding is anything rather than revolutionary. The men come to be educated, and an air of conscientious desire for knowledge hangs over the whole meeting. Only occasionally, especially in the speeches of the women, there is a note of bitterness — intense and deep, but [p.130] never hot-headed, impetuous, or foolish. The police take notes of all that is said; at any mention of the Emperor, or of the pillars of Church and State, they prick up their ears, and write with greater vigour than before. Their report is official, and their interpretation, though often ignorantly absurd — for they are far less educated than the average audience — is alone accepted in a law court. If anything is said which they regard as dangerous, they dissolve the meeting, and the people march out singing a German Marseillaise, with the chorus —

“Der Bahn, der kühnen, folgen wir,
Die uns geführt Lassalle.”

(We follow that bold path,
On which Lassalle has led us.)

As a school for public speaking, and as a club for the more earnest apostles of Socialism, the chief part is played by the electoral associations (Wahlvereine), which are coextensive with the Parliamentary constituencies. In Berlin these are now dissolved, but in the rest of Germany they still, exist, and have existed throughout the Socialist Law, being, as we saw, specially excepted from some of the provisions of the Coalition Law. They are not allowed, however, to admit women, students or apprentices to their meetings, and they therefore seldom call public meetings themselves. These are usually called by the confidential agent, or some other private member. The electoral associations consist, in flourishing districts, of from 100 to 200 members, and here young members get their training, and debatable questions are discussed. In [p.131] public, the Party shows, usually, a perfectly united opinion, but in these small meetings the most animated discussions are frequent. Here the opinions of the official party are formed, and here the small minority of élite Social Democrats, as Göhre calls them, refresh their faith and determine their local tactics.

But the electoral associations are, after all, little more than a school for those already convinced. The really effectual part of the agitation is carried on by their members, individually, in the course of their daily work, in Sunday walks with their pals, in talks on the way to and from the factory. In personal influence of this kind. Social Democracy derives great strength from the completeness of its gospel; those who are really imbued with its doctrines have a complete philosophy of life, which makes their most casual words, their mere gestures even, an expression of settled convictions. In this way, and by the perpetual handing round of papers and brochures, the élite of the Party acquire a dominion over their less intelligent and less definite companions; these are often very vague as to what Social Democracy is, and may even retain a liking for the military or a disbelief in Communism, totally inconsistent with the Party Programme, while yet vaguely convinced that the Socialists alone have the interests of labour at heart, and that the Socialists alone, in some way not clearly understood, but yet held to be genuine, will try to get higher wages for the working-men. All political struggles are class struggles, says Social Democracy, and we are the party of the proletariat class. This catchword [p.132] is undoubtedly most effective for agitation, and wherever the opposition of capital and labour is obvious and definite, it has succeeded in winning an overwhelming majority of the working classes. In Chemnitz, according to Göhre, he met only three working-men, in the course of his whole stay, who were not Social Democrats. “Everything here,” said one of his companions in the factory, “is Social Democratic, even the machines.” But as to what constituted Social Democracy, he says, the majority of his companions were very vague. The final aims of the Party, in particular, appear to have been for the most part rather unpopular: so great a change as the abolition of private property was unintelligible to the average working-man. The opposition to militarism, too — which, in the eyes of any unprejudiced observer, must appear one of the best points in the Party Programme — was not shared, if Göhre may be believed, by any but the official members. As, however, the official members alone are clear as to the aims to be pursued, and alone decide the choice of candidates, their views alone are represented in Parliament, and their views, one may suppose, will more and more become those of the rank and file. Just as the constant influence of Marx’s knowledge and completeness gradually won over the official party, so, in all probability, the constant influence of the official party will more and more win over the ordinary voter. For this reason, the views of the rank and file, however different from those which find expression in party literature, do not seem to me to have any great political importance. [p.133]

III. Tactics. — But we must now return to the times immediately following the lapse of the Socialist Law. Bismarck’s policy, of punishment first and bribes afterwards, had signally failed; the present Emperor resolved on the opposite course. His famous rescripts of the spring of 1890 — in which, after declaring the necessity of factory legislation and the supreme importance of the social question, he urged the calling of an International Conference for the discussion of labour questions — aroused many hopes of a change in the spirit of the Government. The Conference, it is true, produced only the most trivial results — its recommendations could only be of service to the most backward countries — but still the Emperor desired factory legislation, and his dismissal of Bismarck seemed to prove that he was in earnest in his professions of reform.

Under these circumstances, it appeared, for a moment, as if Social Democracy might abandon its attitude of uncompromising opposition, and admit the hope of amelioration by gradual reform. Von Vollmar, one of the ablest of its leaders, who was followed enthusiastically by most of the South German party, made two great speeches to his constituents in Munich,4 in which he urged the adoption of this policy. Any other attitude, ho said, was unworthy of a great party; now that they were stronger than any other single political party, the Socialists could afford to treat with their opponents. The Government had, at last, adopted a conciliatory tone; let them do the same, and hope for an end of the war. [p.134]

As the terms of a compromise, Vollmar proposed five points: —

(1) Extension of the Factory Laws
(2) A real right of coalition
(3) Cessation of all State interference, in favour of one section of society
(4) Legislation against industrial rings
(5) Abolition of taxes on the necessaries of life
But under the Socialist Law, there had arisen in Berlin, the centre of Prussian bureaucracy, a party which, fresh from the oppression of the state of siege, would hear nothing of compromise, of treaties with the Government, or of legal means for gaining the ends of Socialism. Between these two opposing tendencies, the central government of the Party, to avoid the dangers of a split, thought it wisest to adopt a middle course. Bebel, who defined the orthodox position at the Congress of 1891, stated it as the present purpose of their parliamentary activity, not to win this or that concession, but to enlighten the masses as to the position of the other parties, and to make it clear, that these parties denied to labour the most just and elementary demands. 5

But since, as a matter of fact, he continued, parliamentary action had this effect, since the winning of the masses was essential to the victory of Social Democracy, they must not hastily adopt revolutionary tactics, but must continue, as before, to agitate for the spread of their views among the working classes, without hoping for concessions from any of the bourgeois parties. In spite of an able defence by Vollmar, Bebel’s resolution was adopted, which [p.135] declared that no compromise with capitalism was possible, and that no ground existed for changing the traditional tactics of the party; 6 but that forcible revolt was out of the question, and that parliamentary activity was to be pursued with all possible energy as a means of agitation.

Whether this decision was wise or not, it seems impossible for a foreigner to estimate. It is certain, at any rate, that all liberal-minded opponents of Social Democracy regard it as a fatal mistake; but this speaks, perhaps, rather for it than against it. In any case, it is thoroughly consistent with the whole spirit of Marxianism. The utter failure of Lassalle’s attempt at negotiation, the brutality of the Socialist Law, and the general intractability of the Government and its supporters, had doubtless persuaded the Socialists that any relaxing of their opposition would only be used to further the ends of the Crown and the aristocracy, and that sheer terror was the only motive which could force the ruling classes into measures of real reform.

Bismarck himself had confessed in the Reichstag the justice of this view. “If there were no Social Democracy,” he had said during the Socialist Law, “and if many were not afraid of it, even the moderate progress, which we have hitherto made in Social Reform, would not have been brought about.” 7 German history certainly lends colour to this view, and the decision of the Party, though in England it would have been madness, may have been a necessary outcome of the boundless selfishness of the German Government. At the same time, its necessity can [p.136] only be temporary. The stronger the Party becomes, the more Bismarck’s do ut des becomes a possible basis of negotiation, and the more peaceful and gradual reforms become feasible without danger of betrayal. We must hope, therefore, in any case, that the Party’s future policy lies with Vollmar and moderation.

IV. The Erfurt Programme. — The same congress which defined the orthodox tactics, the Erfurt Congress of 1891, also defined the orthodox creed, which is still embodied in the Erfurt Programme. The Gotha Programme of 1875, the result of a compromise between the followers of Lassalle and those of Marx, had long ceased to express the general opinions of the Party. As early as 1873, a prominent Social Democrat, W. Bracke, had written a very convincing pamphlet against Lassalle’s State-supported productive associations; any but a people’s state, he said, would use them as mere means of bribery and instruments of the reaction, while the People’s State, when it is once established, will have more thorough means of reform at its disposal. But the demand for these associations remained in the programme, at first because the Lassalleans were still numerous, and afterwards because it was impossible, under the Socialist Law, to undertake so important a task as the revision of the programme. Twelve years of oppression, however, had persuaded a large majority of the Party that they could not accept help from the existing State, and had forced on them the necessity of uncompromising class-warfare. Thus the last remnants of Lassalle’s influence had died out, and the Party [p.137] was ready to adopt a completely Marxian programme.

Accordingly a commission was appointed at Halle to draw up a new programme, and this programme was accepted, in 1891, by the Congress at Erfurt, and has since been the official programme of the party. It runs as follows: —

Programme of the Social Democratic Party of Germany

The economic development of bourgeois society leads necessarily to the disappearance of production on a small scale (Kleinbetrieb), the principle of which consists in the worker’s owning the means of production. This economic development separates the worker from his means of production, and transforms him into an unpropertied proletarian, while the means of production become the property of a comparatively small number of capitalists and great landlords.

Hand in hand with the monopolising of the means of production, goes the supplanting of scattered small businesses by colossal businesses, the development of the tool into the machine, and a gigantic growth of the productivity of human labour. But all the advantages of this change are monopolised by the capitalists and great landlords. For the proletariat and the sinking intermediate layers — small masters, peasants — it betokens growing increase of the insecurity of their existence, of misery, of oppression, of slavery, of humiliation and of exploitation.

Ever greater grows the number of the proletariat, ever more extensive the army of superfluous workers, ever sharper the contrast between exploiters and exploited, and ever bitterer the class-warfare between bourgeoisie and proletariat, which divides modern society into two hostile camps, and is the common characteristic of all industrial countries.

[p.138] The chasm between propertied and unpropertied is further widened by crises, rooted in the essence of the capitalistic method of production, which grow ever more far-reaching and more ravaging, which make general insecurity into the normal condition of society, and furnish the proof that the productive powers of modem society have outgrown its control, that private property in the means of production is irreconcilable with the due application and full development of those powers.

Private property in the means of production, which was formerly the means of securing to the producer the possession of his own product, has to-day become the means of expropriating peasants, handicraftsmen and small producers, and of putting the non-workers, capitalists and great landlords in possession of the product of the workers. Only the conversion of capitalistic private property in the means of production — land, quarries, and mines, raw material, tools, machines, means of communication — into common property, and the change of the production of goods into a socialistic production, worked for and through society, can bring it about that production on a large scale, and the ever-growing productiveness of human labour, shall develop, for the hitherto exploited classes, from a source of misery and oppression, into a source of the highest well-being and perfect universal harmony.

This social change betokens the emancipation, not only of the proletariat, but of the whole human race, which is suffering under the present conditions. But it can only be the work of the working classes, because all other classes, in spite of conflicts of interests among themselves, take their stand on the ground of private property in the means of production, and have, for their common aim, the maintenance of the foundations of existing society.

The struggle of the working class against capitalistic exploitation is of necessity a political struggle. The working class cannot carry on its economic contests, and cannot [p.139] develop its economic organisation, without political rights. It cannot bring about the transference of the means of production into the possession of the community, without having obtained political power.

To give to this fight of the working class a conscious and unified form, and to show it its necessary goal — that is the task of the Social Democratic Party.

The interests of the working classes are the same in all countries with a capitalistic mode of production. With the extension of the world’s commerce, and of production for the world-market, the position of the worker in every country grows ever more dependent on the position of the worker in other countries. The liberation of the working class, accordingly, is a work in which the workmen of all civilised countries are equally involved. In recognition of this, the Social Democratic Party of Germany feels and declares itself to be one with the class-conscious workmen of all other countries.

The Social Democratic Party of Germany does not fight, accordingly, for new class-privileges and class-rights, but for the abolition of class-rule and of classes themselves, for equal rights and equal duties of all, without distinction of sex or descent. Starting from these views, it combats, within existing society, not only the exploitation and oppression of wage-earners, but every kind of exploitation and oppression, whether directed against a class, a party, a sex, or a race.

Proceeding from these principles, the Social Democratic Party of Germany demands, to begin with:

I. Universal, equal, and direct suffrage, with secret ballot, for all elections, of all citizens of the realm over twenty years of age, without distinction of sex. Proportional representation, and until this is introduced, legal redistribution of electoral districts after every census. Biennial legislative periods. Holding of the elections on [p.140] a legal holiday. Compensation for the elected representatives. Abolition of every limitation of political rights, except in the case of legal incapacity.

2. Direct legislation through the people, by means of the rights of proposal and rejection. Self-determination and self-government of the people in realm, state, province and parish. Election of magistrates by the people, with responsibility to the people. Annual voting of taxes.

3. Education of all to bear arms. Militia in the place of the standing army. Decision by the popular representatives on questions of war and peace. Settlement of all international disputes by arbitration.

4. Abolition of all laws which limit or suppress the right of meeting and coalition.

5. Abolition of all laws which place women, whether in a public or a private capacity, at a disadvantage as compared with men.

6. Declaration that religion is a private affair. Abolition of all expenditure of public funds upon ecclesiastical and religious objects. Ecclesiastical and religious bodies are to be regarded as private associations, which regulate their affairs entirely independently.

7. Secularisation of schools. Compulsory attendance at the public national schools. Free education, free supply of educational materials, and free maintenance in the public schools, as well as in the higher educational institutions, for those boys and girls who, on account of their capacities, are considered fit for further education.

8. Free administration of justice, and free legal assistance. Administration of the law through judges elected by the people. Appeal in criminal cases. Compensation of persons unjustly accused, imprisoned, or condemned. Abolition of capital punishment.

9. Free medical attendance, including midwifery, and free supply of medicines. Free burial.

10. Graduated income and property-tax for defraying [p.141] all public expenses, so far as these are to be covered by taxation. Duty of self-assessment. Succession duties, graduated according to the amount of the inheritance and the degree of relationship. Abolition of all indirect taxes, customs, and other economic measures, which sacrifice the interests of the community to those of a privileged minority.

For the protection of the working classes, the Social Democratic Party of Germany demands to begin with;

1. An effective national and international legislation for the protection of labour on the following principles: —

(a) Fixing of a normal working day, which shall not exceed eight hours,

(b) Prohibition of the employment of children under fourteen.

(c) Prohibition of night-work, except in those industries which, by their nature, require night-work, from technical reasons, or for the public welfare.

(d) An unbroken rest of at least thirty-six hours in every week for every worker,

(e) Prohibition of the truck-system.

2. Supervision of all industrial establishments, investigation and regulation of conditions of labour in town and country by a central labour department, district labour bureaus, and chambers of labour.

3. Legal equality of agricultural labourers and domestic servants with industrial workers; abolition of the laws concerning servants.

4. Confirmation of the right of coalition.

5. Taking over by the Imperial Government of the whole system of working people’s insurance, though giving the working people a controlling share in the administration.

This programme calls for little comment. The only points of importance about it are its perfectly orthodox Marxianism, and its boundless democracy, [p.142] which includes the demand for the equality of men and women. As regards the first, it is noticeable that it in no way distinguishes between agriculture and other branches of production, and that it sees no difference between landlord and capitalist farmer. These two confusions, which it inherits from Marx, have caused the present difficulties of the Party as regards the agrarian question, which I shall have to discuss in the next lecture. As regards the second point, the democratic proposals of the programme — referendum, election of magistrates, etc. — I have neither space nor knowledge for a critical discussion of them. But one remark seems necessary, in explanation of their apparently excessive demands. Germany has suffered so frightfully from autocratic officialism, the German official so readily forgets the interests of the people in the dignity of his office, and German public opinion is so slow to take up the offences of powerful magistrates, that a degree of democracy in the administration of the Law and the Civil Service, which to us would seem monstrous and absurd, may well seem desirable to the German democrats. It seems at least possible, under these circumstances, that election of officials may be a necessary preventive of red-tape and of the officious exercise of power — particularly in a collectivist State, where the State official would be a much more powerful and important personage than he is at present.

At the same time, a democracy such as the Erfurt Programme contemplates, a democracy whose principle is, that the ignorant voter is as good a judge of current questions as the member who has [p.143] specially studied them, would, if consistently carried out, undoubtedly make all wise and expert government impossible. Popular election, with freedom for the elected representative, should be the principle of democratic government. The election of mere delegates destroys all possibility of utilising special skill and knowledge in the governors. It is much to be hoped, therefore, that Social Democracy will, in time, eliminate the fallacious maxim that “one man is as good as another;” a maxim on the basis of which no sound government seems possible.

The Erfurt Programme represents the complete victory of Marx’s principles, and for purposes of agitation, its Marxianism no doubt gives it more force than an economically sounder programme could possess. But it seems probable that experience, whether in the agrarian question or in practical politics, will gradually, as the party grows more powerful, and therefore less purely a party of opposition, necessitate the admission of views not to be derived from Marx, and probably in part, positively opposed to Marx. Though it is rash to predict, it seems indubitable that, if the party has a future of power at all, it must purchase power by a practical, if not a theoretical abandonment of some portions of Marx’s doctrines. His influence is now almost omnipotent, but this omnipotence must, sooner or later, be conquered by practical necessity, if the Party is not to remain forever a struggling minority.

*  Bertrand Russell, Lecture 5, German Social Democracy (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1896)  All pagination is to the original 1896 edition, downloadable as a pdf from this website

1 I may mention, as an instance of the legal definition of an association, that in November l895, while I was in Germany, a business meeting of the staff of a Social Democratic newspaper, the Magdeburg Volkstimme, was dissolved by seven policemen, for not having given due notice to the police, on the ground that it was a meeting of a political association, in which public affairs were being discussed. Vide Vorwärts, November 23, 1895. Wilhelm Hasenclever, in Der freie Sänger, Eine Sammlung Sozial-demokratischer Lieder und Deklamationen, 20th ed. New York, 1893

2 The efficiency of this system may be gathered from the Party’s accounts, which are published monthly and discussed at the Annual Congress. Thus, in the eleven months, from 1st October 1894 to 31st August 1895, the five Berlin divisions represented by Social Democrats contributed to current expenses — exclusive of defence of accused persons and other extras — sums making a total of about 36,000 marks, or nearly 40,000 marks annually. Election expenses are paid by a special collection. The total income of the Party chest amounts to about 250,000 marks, or £ 12,500 annually. For a fuller treatment of this subject, see Appendix

3 The legal proceedings have now confirmed the action of the police, but are said to have persuaded public opinion that the coalition laws need to be reformed (August 1896).

4 Eldoradoreden

5 Protokoll for 1891, p. 174

6 Protokoll, p. 157

7 Speech of November 26, 1884