Red Letter
Daily Left Theory. 15 Minutes or Less. Refreshes at Midnight.
The Most Pressing Problems of Social Democracy
by Eduard Bernstein
Estimated Reading Time: 15 min


Why are we reading Bernstein? Eduard Bernstein (1850-1932), Engel's literary executive to Engels, is the Right Opportunist, the revisionist of Marx, the scourge of the second international. What happens when you type "Eduard Bernstein is" into

  • "Eduard Bernstein is the consummate expression of the revisionist deviation in Marxism, a perfect example of bourgeois ideology penetrating the Marxist science within a process conditioned by the class struggle."
  • "Bernstein is merely giving us a rehash from bourgeois economists."
  • “The opportunist current in the party theoretically formulated by Bernstein is nothing but an unconscious endeavor to assure the upper hand to the petty bourgeois elements who have come over to the party, to remodel the practise and the aims of the party in their spirit. The question of social reform and revolution, of final goal and movement is on the other hand the question of the petty bourgeois or the proletarian character of the labor movement.”
  • Eduard Bernstein's project in Evolutionary Socialism was an attempt to convince the workers' movement that the correct road to socialism was the reformist or evolutionary, rather than the revolutionary, path. His argument hinged on a reinterpretation of economic laws of motion, on a new use of liberal democracy within the theory of the state, on the introduction of a concept of moral and ethical development, and on the relationships among these elements. He wished to demonstrate that the economy was not conflict-ridden, and, specifically, that the class struggle would assume less and less importance within the capitalist mode of production.

People generally cannot stand Bernstein. Despite a small caveat that he was not terrible on issues of sexuality, Bernstein is generally pilloried as the bad guy of the second international. Two notes worth mentioning. The first is straight from the wikipedia page of Reform or Revolution, but it is a good synopsis:

"In 1890, anti-socialist laws were lifted and a wave of strikes and trade union militancy followed. Fearing that the strikes would "scare off" conservative members or that repression might return, SPD leaders renounced the more revolutionary aspects of their program. At the 1891 Erfurt Congress, the party program enshrined Marxism—and the overthrow of capitalism—as the "official" thinking of the SPD, but argued for practical tasks appropriate for a time when revolution was not on the immediate agenda. Leading German socialist Eduard Bernstein was one of the authors of the Erfurt Programme.* Just a little anti-wikipedia humor with the whole citation needed thing.Citation Needed*

The other thing to consider while reading Bernstein is how much of his politics is still seen as the left edge of politics in the United States and other Western/G10 countries today. Bernstein may be the bad guy, but he is also an important part of the lineage of socialism. The right leaps to criticize the left ad nauseum, but shouldn't we remain familiar with missteps of the past as well?

It is a matter of no interest to the German people that China should be divided up and Germany be granted a piece of the Celestial Empire. But the German people has a great interest in this – that China should not be the prey of other nations; it has a great interest in this – that China’s commercial policy should not be subordinated to the interest of a single foreign power or a coalition of foreign powers – in short, that in all questions concerning China, Germany should have a word to say. Its commerce with China demands such a right to protest. In so far as the acquisition of the Kiauchow Bay is a means of securing this right to protest, and it will be difficult to gainsay that it does contribute to it, there is no reason in my opinion for the social democracy to cry out against it on principle. Apart from the manner in which it was acquired and the pious words with which it was accompanied, it was not the worst stroke of Germany’s foreign policy.

It was a matter of securing free trade with and in China. For there can be no doubt that without that acquisition China would have been drawn to a greater degree into the ring of the capitalist economy, and also that without it Russia would have continued its policy of encircling, and would have occupied the Manchurian harbours. It was thus only a question as to whether Germany should look on quietly whilst, by the accomplishment of one deed after, another, China fell ever more and more into dependence on Russia, or whether Germany should secure herself a position on the ground that she also, under normal conditions, can make her influence felt at any time on the situation of things in China, instead of being obliged to content herself with belated protests. So far ran and runs the leasing of the Kiauchow Bay, a pledge for the safeguarding of the future interests of Germany in China, be its official explanation what it may, and thus far could social democracy approve it without in the least giving away its principles.

Meanwhile, owing to the want of responsibility in the management of the foreign policy of Germany, there can be no question of positive support from the social democracy, but only of the right foundation of its negative attitude. Without a guarantee that such undertakings should not be turned to account over the heads of the people’s representative House for other aims than those announced, say as a means to achieve some temporary success which might surrender the greater interests of the future, without some such pledge social democracy can take upon itself no share in the measures of foreign policy.

As can be seen the rule here unfolded for the position regarding questions of foreign policy turns on the attitude observed hitherto in practice by social democracy. How far it agrees in its fundamental assumptions with the ruling mode of viewing things in the party, does not lie with me to explain. On the whole, tradition plays a greater part in these things than we think. It lies in the nature of all advanced parties to lay only scanty weight on changes already accomplished. The chief object they have in view is always that which does not change – quite a justifiable and useful tendency towards definite aims – the setting of goals. Penetrated by this, such parties fall easily into the habit of maintaining longer than is necessary or useful opinions handed down from the past, in assumptions of which very much has been altered. They overlook or undervalue these changes; they seek for facts which may still make those opinions seem valid, more than they examine the question whether in the face of the totality of the facts appertaining to it, the old opinion has not meanwhile become prejudice.

Such political a priori reasoning often appears to me to play a part in dealing with the question of colonies.

In principle it is quite a matter of indifference to-day to socialism, or the workmen’s movement, whether new colonies should prove successful or not. The assumption that the extension of colonies will restrict the realisation of socialism, rests at bottom on the altogether outworn idea that the realisation of socialism depends on an increasing narrowing of the circle of the well-to-do and an increasing misery of the poor. That the first is a fable was shown in earlier chapters, and the misery theory has now been given up nearly everywhere, if not with all its logical conclusions and outright, yet at least by explaining it away as much as possible. 32

32. H. Cunow makes such an attempt in his article The Catastrophe. He says that if Marx at the end of his first volume of Capital speaks of the “increasing mass of misery” which will appear with the progress of capitalist production we must understand by that “not a simple retrogression of the social state of existence of the worker” but only a “retrogression of his social total position in relation to progressive, civilised development – that is, in relation to the increase of productivity and the increase of the general wants of civilisation.” The idea of misery is no fixed one. “What appears to one workman in a certain category, whom a great difference in education separates from his ‘master of work’, as a lot worthy to be striven after, may appear to a well-qualified worker of another category, who mentally, perhaps, is intellectually superior to his ‘master of work’, as such a ‘mixture of misery and oppression’ that he rises in revolt against it” (Neue Zeit XVII., pp.402-403).Unfortunately Marx speaks in the sentence referred to not only of the increasing mass of misery, of oppression, but also of “slavery, of deterioration, of exploitation”. Are we to understand these also in the implied – “Pickwickian” – sense? Are we to admit, perhaps, a deterioration of the worker which is only a relative deterioration in proportion to the increase of the general civilisation? I am not inclined to do it, nor Cunow probably. No, Marx speaks in the passage referred to quite positively of “a constantly decreasing number of millionaires” who “usurp all the advantages” of the capitalist transformation and the growth “of the man of misery, of oppression” etc. (Capital, I, chap. xxiv. 7). One can ground the catastrophe theory on this contrast, but not on the moral misery caused by the intellectually inferior managers who are to be found in every counting house – in every hierarchical organisation. Incidentally it is a little satisfaction to me to see how Cunow here can only reconcile with reality the sentences on which the catastrophe theory rests by suddenly allowing workers of different categories to appear with fundamentally opposed social ideas? Are those, then, also “English workers”?

But even if the theory were right, the colonies about which there is now an interest in Germany are far from being in the position to re-act so quickly on social conditions at home, that they could only keep off a possible catastrophe for a year. In this respect the German social democracy would have nothing to fear from the colonial policy of the German Empire. And because it is so, because the development of the colonies which Germany has acquired (and of those which it could perhaps win, the same holds good) will take so much time that there can be no question for many a long year of any reaction worth mentioning on the social conditions of Germany. Just from this reason the German social democracy can treat the question of these colonies without prejudice. There can even be no question of a serious reaction of colonial possessions on the political conditions of Germany. Naval Chauvinism, for example, stands undoubtedly in close connection with colonial Chauvinism, and draws from it a certain nourishment. But the first would also exist without the second, just as Germany had her navy before she thought of the conquest of colonies. It must nevertheless be granted that this connection is the most rational ground for justifying a thorough resistance to a colonial policy.

Otherwise, there is some justification during the acquisition of colonies to examine carefully their value and prospects, and to control the settlement and treatment of the natives as well as the other matters of administration; but that does not amount to a reason for considering such acquisition beforehand as something reprehensible.

As Mike Taber has pointed out "Eduard Bernstein was one of the first to openly question the socialist movement’s anticolonial stance. Writing in 1896, he stated, 'We will condemn and oppose certain methods of subjugating savages. But we will not condemn the idea that savages must be subjugated and made to conform to the rules of higher civilisation.'" Barf.

Its political position, owing to the present system of government, forbids social democracy from taking more than a critical attitude to these things, and the question whether Germany to-day needs colonies can, particularly in regard to those colonies that are still to be obtained, be answered in the negative with good authority. But the future has also its rights for us to consider. If we take into account the fact that Germany now imports yearly a considerable amount of colonial produce, we must also say to ourselves that the time may come when it will be desirable to draw at least a part of these products from our own colonies. However speedy socialists may imagine the course of development in Germany towards themselves to be, yet we cannot be blind to the fact that it will need a considerable time before a whole series of other countries are converted to socialism. But if it is not reprehensible to enjoy the produce of tropical plantations, it cannot be so to cultivate such plantations ourselves. Not the whether but the how is here the decisive point. It is neither necessary that the occupation of tropical lands by Europeans should injure the natives in their enjoyment of life, nor has it hitherto usually been the case. Moreover, only a conditional right of savages to the land occupied by them can be recognised. The higher civilisation ultimately can claim a higher right. Not the conquest, but the cultivation, of the land gives the historical legal title to its use. 3333. “Even a whole society, a nation, nay, all contemporaneous societies taken together are not proprietors of the earth. They are only its tenants, its usufructuaries, and have to leave it improved as boni patres familias to the following generation” (Marx, Capital, III. 2, p.309).

34. Hyndman insists with great decision on the idea that England, for the protection of the importation of its foodstuffs, needs a navy large enough for every possible combination of adversaries. “Our existence as a nation of free men depends on our supremacy at sea. This can be said of no other people of the present day. However much we socialists are naturally opposed to armaments, we must however, recognise facts” (Justice, December 31st, 1898).

According to my judgment these are the essential points of view which should decide the position of social democracy as regards the question of colonial policy. They also, in practice, would bring about no change worth mentioning in the vote of the party; but we are not only concerned, I repeat, with what would be voted in a given case, but also with the reasons given for the vote.

There are socialists to whom every admission of national interests appears as Chauvinism or as an injury to the internationalism and class policy of the proletariat. As in his time Domela Nieuwenhuis declared Bebel’s well-known assertion – that in case of an attack on the part of Russia the social democracy would set up their men for the defence of Germany – to be Chauvinism, so lately, Mr. Belfort Bax also found reprehensible jingoism in a similar assertion by Mr. Hyndman. 34

It must be admitted that it is not always easy to fix the boundary where the advocacy of the interests of one’s nation ceases to be just and to pass into pseudo-patriotism; but the remedy for exaggeration on this side certainly does not lie in greater exaggeration on the other. It is much more to be sought in a movement for the exchange of thought between the democracies of the civilised countries and in the support of all factors and institutes working for peace.

Of greater importance to-day than the question of raising the demands already standing on the programme, is the question of supplementing the party’s programme. Here practical development has placed a whole series of questions on the orders of the day which at the drawing up of the programme were partly considered to be lying away too far in the future for social democracy to concern itself specially with them, but which were also partly, not sufficiently considered in all their bearings. To these belong the agrarian question, the policy of local administration, co-operation and different matters of industrial law. The great growth of social democracy in the eight years since the drawing up of the Erfurt Programme, its reaction on the home politics of Germany as well as its experiences in other lands, have made the more intimate consideration of all these questions imperative, and many views which were formerly held about them have been materially corrected.

Concerning the agrarian question, even those who thought peasant cultivation doomed to decay have considerably changed their views as to the length of time for the completion of this decay. In the later debates on the agrarian policy to be laid down by the social democracy, certainly many differences of opinion have been shown on this point, but in principle they revolved round this – whether, and in a given case to what limit, social democracy should offer assistance to the peasant as an independent farmer against capitalism.

The question is more easily asked than answered. The fact that the great mass of peasants, even if they are not wage earners, yet belong to the working classes, i.e., do not maintain existence merely on a title to possessions or on a privilege of birth, places them near the wage-earning class. On the other side they form in Germany such an important fraction of the population that at an election in very many constituencies their votes decide between the capitalist and socialist parties. But if social democracy would not or will not limit itself to being the party of the workers in the sense that it is only the political completion of trade unionism, it must be careful to interest at least a great part of the peasants in the victory of its candidates. In the long run that will only happen if social democracy commits itself to measures which offer an improvement for the small peasants in the immediate future. But with many measures having this object the legislature cannot distinguish between the small and the middle class peasants, and on the other hand they cannot help the peasant as a citizen of the state or as a worker without supporting him at least indirectly as an “undertaker.”

This is shown with other things in the programme of socialist agrarian policy which Kautsky sketched at the end of his work on the agrarian question under the heading The Neutralisation of the Peasantry. Kautsky shows most convincingly that even after a victory for social democracy no reason will exist for the abolition of peasants’ holdings. But he is at the same time a strong opponent of such measures, or the setting up of such demands, as aim at forming a “protection for peasants” in the sense that they would retain the peasant artificially as an undertaker. He proposes quite a series of reforms, or declares it admissible to support them, which result in relieving the country parishes and in increasing their sources of income. But to what class would these measures be a benefit in the first instance? According to Kautsky’s own representation, to the peasants. For, as he shows in another passage of his work, in the country, even under the rule of universal suffrage, there could be no question of an influence of the proletariat on the affairs of the parish worth mentioning. For that influence is, according to him, too isolated, too backward, too dependent on the few employers of labour who control it. “A communal policy other than one in the interest of the landowner is not to be thought of.” Just as little can we think to-day “of a modern management of the land by the parish in a large co-operative farming enterprise controlled by the village community.” But, so far, and so long, as that is so, measures like “Amalgamation of the hunting divisions of the great landowners in the community,” “Nationalisation of the taxes for schools, roads, and the poor”, would obviously contribute to the improvement of the economic position of the peasants and therewith also to the strengthening of their possessions. Practically, then, they would just work as protection for the peasants.

Under two hypotheses the support of such protection for the peasants appears to me innocuous. First a strong protection of agricultural labourers must go hand in hand with it, and secondly democracy must rule in the commune and the district. Both are assumed by Kautsky. But Kautsky undervalues the influence of agricultural labourers in the democratised country parish. The agricultural labourers are as helpless as he describes them in the passage quoted, only in such districts as lie quite outside commercial intercourse; and their number is always becoming smaller. Usually the agricultural labourer is to-day tolerably conscious of his interests and with universal suffrage would even become more so. Besides that, there exist in most parishes all kinds of antagonisms among the peasants themselves, and the village community contains, in craftsmen and small traders, elements which in many respects have more in common with the agricultural labourers than with the peasant aristocracy. All that means that the agricultural labourers, except in a very few cases, would not have to make a stand alone against an unbroken “reactionary mass.” Democracy has, in the country districts, if it is to exist, to work in the spirit of socialism. I consider democracy in conjunction with the results of the great changes in the system of communication, of transport, a more powerful lever in the emancipation of agricultural labourers than the technical changes in peasant farming.

I refrain from going through all the details of Kautsky’s programme with which, as I have already remarked, I agree thoroughly in principle; but I believe that a few observations on it ought not to be suppressed. For me, as already observed, the chief task which social democracy now has to fulfil for the agricultural population can be classified under three heads, namely: (1) The struggle against all the present remnants and supports of feudal landowners, and the fight for democracy in the commune and district. This involves a fight for the removal of entail, of privileged estate parishes, hunting privileges, etc., as laid down by Kautsky. In Kautsky’s formulation “the fullest self-government in the parish and the province”, the word “fullest” does not seem to me well chosen, and I would substitute for it the word “democratic”. Superlatives are nearly always misleading. “Fullest self-government” can apply to the circle of those entitled to have a say, what it means can be better expressed by “democratic self-government”; but it can also denote the administrative functions, and then it would mean an absolutism of the parish, which neither is necessary nor can be reconciled with the demands of a healthy democracy. The general legislature of the nation stands above the parish, apportioning its definite functions and representing the general interests against its particular interests.

(2) Protection and relief of the working classes in agriculture. Under this heading falls the protection of labourers in the narrower sense: Abolition of regulations for servants, limitation of hours of labour in the various categories of wage earners, sanitary police regulations, a system of education, as well as measures which free the small peasant as a taxpayer.

(3) Measures against the absolutism of property and furthering co-operation. Hereunder would fall demands like “Limitation of the rights of private property in the soil with a view to promoting (1) the suppression of adding field to field, (2) the cultivation of land, (3) prevention of disease” (Kautsky); “reduction of exorbitant rents by courts of justice set up for the purpose” (Kautsky); the building of healthy and comfortable workmen’s dwellings by the parish; “facilities for co-operative unions by means of legislation” (Kautsky); the right of the parish to acquire land by purchase or expropriation and to lease it at a cheap rent to workmen and workmen’s associations.

This latter demand leads to the question of co-operation. After what has been said in the chapter on the economic possibilities of cooperative associations I need say little here. The question to-day is no longer whether co-operative associations ought to exist or not. They exist and will exist whether the social democracy desires it or not. By the weight of its influence on the working classes, social democracy certainly can retard the spread of workmen’s co-operative societies, but it will not thereby do any service for itself or the working class. The hard-and-dry Manchesterism which is often manifested by sections of the party in regard to co-operation and is grounded on the declaration that there can be no socialist co-operative society within a capitalist society is not justified. It is, on the contrary, important to take a decided position and to be clear which kind of associations social democracy can recommend, and can morally support.

We have seen what an extraordinary advance associations for credit, purchasing, dairy farming, working and selling, make in all modern countries. But these associations in Germany are generally associations of peasants, representatives of the “middle class movement” in the country. I consider it incontrovertible that they, in conjunction with the cheapening of the rate of interest which the increased accumulation of capital brings with it, could indeed help much towards keeping peasant enterprises capable of competing with large enterprises. Consequently, these peasant associations are in most cases the scene of the action of anti-socialist elements, of petits bourgeois liberals, clericals, and anti-semites. So far as social democracy is concerned, they can to-day be put out of reckoning nearly everywhere – even if in their ranks there are here and there small peasants who are nearer to the socialist than to other parties. The middle-class peasant takes the lead with them. If social democracy ever had a prospect of winning a stronger influence on the class of the country population referred to by means of co-operation, it has let the opportunity slip.

But if the social democratic party has not the vocation of founding co-operative stores, that does not mean it should take no interest in them. The dearly-loved declaration that co-operative stores are not socialist enterprises, rests on the same formalism which long acted against trade unions, and which now begins to make room for the opposite extreme. Whether a trade union or a workmen’s co-operative store is or is not socialistic, does not depend on its form but on its character – on the spirit that permeates it. They are not socialism, but as organisations of workmen they bear in themselves enough of the element of socialism to develop into worthy and indispensable levers for the socialist emancipation. They will certainly best discharge their economic tasks if they are left completely to themselves in their organization and government. But as the aversion and even enmity which many socialists formerly felt against the trade union movement has gradually changed into friendly neutrality and then into the feeling of belonging together, so will it happen with the stores – so has it already happened in some measure.

Those elements, which are enemies not only of the revolutionary, but of every emancipation movement of the workers, by their campaign against the workmen’s co-operative stores have obliged the social democracy to step in to support them. Experience has also shown that such fears, as that the co-operative movement would take away intellectual and other forces from the political movement of the workers, were utterly unfounded. In certain places that may be the case temporarily, but in the long run exactly the opposite takes place. Social democracy can look on confidently at the founding of working men’s co-operative stores where the economic and legal preliminary conditions are found, and it will do well to give it its full good-will and to help it as much as possible.

Only from one point of view could the workmen’s co-operative store appear something doubtful in principle – namely, as the good which is in the way of the better, the better being the organisation of the purchase and the distribution of commodities through the municipality, as is designed in nearly all socialist systems. But first of all the democratic store, in order to embrace all members of the place in which it is located, needs no alteration in principle, but only a broadening of its constitution, which throughout is in unison with its natural tendencies (in some smaller places co-operative stores are already not far from counting all the inhabitants of the place as their members). Secondly, the realisation of this thought still lies such a long way off, and assumes so many political and economic changes and intermediate steps in evolution, that it would be mad to reject with regard to it all the advantages which the workers can draw to-day from the co-operative store. As far as the district council or parish is concerned we can only through it to-day provide clearly defined, general needs.

With that we come now to the borough or municipal policy of social democracy. This also for a long time was the step-child of the socialist movement. It is, for example, not very long ago that in a foreign socialist paper (which has since disappeared), edited by very intellectual folk, the following idea was rejected with scorn as belonging to the petit bourgeois, namely, the using of municipalities as the lever of the socialist work of reform without, on that account, neglecting parliamentary action, and the beginning through the municipality of the realisation of socialist demands. The irony of fate has willed it that the chief editor of that paper was only able to get into the Parliament of his country on a wave of municipal socialism. Similarly in England, social democracy found in the municipalities a rich field of fruitful activity before it succeeded in sending its own representatives to Parliament.

In Germany the development was different. Here social democracy had long obtained Parliamentary civil rights before it gained a footing to any extent worth mentioning in the representative bodies of the communes. With its growing extension its success also increased in the elections for local bodies, so that the need for working out a socialist municipal programme has been shown more and more, and such has already been drawn up in individual states or provinces. What does social democracy want for the municipality, and what does it expect from the municipality?

With regard to this the Erfurt programme says only “Self-government of the people in empire, state, province, and municipality; election of officials by the people,” and demands for all elections the direct right to vote for all adults. It makes no declaration as to the legal relation of the enumerated governing bodies to one another. As shown farther back, I maintain that the law or the decree of the nation has to come from the highest legal authority of the community – the state. But that does not mean that the division line between the rights and powers of the state and the municipality should always be the same as to-day.

To-day, for example, the municipal right of expropriation is very limited, so that a whole series of measures of an economic-political character would find in the opposition, or exaggerated demands, of town landlords a positively insurmountable barrier. An extension of the law of expropriation should accordingly be one of the next demands of municipal socialism. It is not, however, necessary to demand an absolutely unlimited law of expropriation. The municipality would always be bound to keep to the regulations of the common law which protect the individual against the arbitrary action of accidental majorities. Rights of property which the common law allows must be inviolable in every community so long as, and in the measure in which, the common law allows them. To take away lawful property otherwise than by compensation, is confiscation, which can only be justified in cases of extreme pressure of circumstances – war, epidemics. 36. I gave expression to this idea very energetically some years ago in my summary of Lassalle’s System of Acquired Rights, which work is itself, as Lassalle writes, dedicated to the object of reconciling revolutionary law with positive law. Braving the danger of being charged with thinking as a philistine, I have no hesitation in declaring that to me the thought or proposal of an expropriation, which would only be robbery dressed up in a legal form, appears wholly objectionable – not to speak of an expropriation according to the prescription of Barères – and, quite apart from the fact that such an expropriation would be objectionable on purely economic or utilitarian grounds. “Whatever far-reaching encroachments on the domain of the privileges of property prevailing hitherto one may assume in this respect, in the period of transition to a socialist state of society, they cannot be those of a senseless operating brutal force, but they must be the expression of an idea of law, even if it be new and asserts itself with elementary force “ (Complete Edition of Lassalle’s Works, vol. III., p.791). The form of the expropriation of the expropriators corresponding most nearly to the socialistic conception of law and rights is that of a replacement by the activities of organisations and institutions. 36

Social democracy will thus be obliged to demand for the municipality, when the franchise becomes democratic, an extension of the right of expropriation (which is still very limited in various German states) if a socialist policy of local government is to be possible. Further, demands respecting the creation of municipal enterprises and of public services, and a labour policy for the municipality, are rightly put into the forefront of the programme. With respect to the first, the following demand should be set up as essential, that all enterprises having a monopolist character and being directed towards the general needs of the members of the municipality must be carried out under its own management, and that, for the rest, the municipality must strive constantly to increase the area of the service it gives to its members. As regards labour policy, we must demand from the municipalities that they, as employers of labour, whether under their own management or under contract, insert as a minimum condition the clauses for wages and hours of labour recognised by the organisations of such workmen, and that they guarantee the right of combination for these workmen. It should, however, be observed here that if it is only right to endeavour to make municipalities as employers of labour surpass private firms with regard to conditions of labour and arrangements for the welfare of the workers, it would be a shortsighted policy for municipal workmen to demand such conditions as would place them, when compared with their fellow-workers in the same trades, in the position of an unusually privileged class, and that the municipality should work at a considerably higher cost than the private employer. That would, in the end, lead to corruption and a weakening of public spirit.

Modern evolution has assigned to municipalities further duties: the establishment and superintendence of local sick funds, to which perhaps at a not very distant epoch the taking over of insurance against invalidity will be added. There has further been added the establishment of labour bureaux and industrial arbitration courts. With regard to the labour bureaux the social democracy claims as its minimum demand that their character should be guaranteed by their being composed of an equal representation of workmen and employers; that arbitration courts should be established by compulsion and their powers extended. Social democracy is sceptical of, even if it does not protest against, municipal insurance against unemployment, as the idea prevails that this insurance is one of the legitimate duties of trade unions and can best be cared for by them. But that can only hold good for well-organised trades which unfortunately still contain a small minority of the working population. The great mass of workers is still unorganised, and the question is whether municipal insurance against unemployment can, in conjunction with trade unions; be so organised that, so far from being an encroachment on the legitimate functions of the latter, it may even be a means of helping them. In any case it would be the duty of the social democratic representatives of the municipality, where such insurance is undertaken, to press with all their energy for the recognition of the unions. 3737. Since the above was written the question has in several German towns been solved by a municipal contribution to the unemployed funds of the unions.

From its whole nature, municipal socialism is an indispensable lever for forming or completely realising what I, in the last chapter, called “the democratic right of labour”. But it is and must be patch-work where the franchise of the municipality is class franchise. That is the case in more than three-fourths of Germany. And so we stand here, as we do with reference to the diets of the federal states, on which the municipalities depend to a great extent, and to the other organs of self-government (districts, provinces, etc.), face to face with the question: how will social democracy succeed in removing the existing class franchise and in obtaining the democratisation of the electoral systems?

Social democracy has to-day in Germany, besides the means of propaganda by speech and writing, the franchise for the Reichstag as the most effective means of asserting its demands. Its influence is so strong that it has extended even to those bodies which have been made inaccessible to the working class owing to a property qualification, or a system of class franchise; for parties must, even in these assemblies, pay attention to the electors for the Reichstag. If the right to vote for the Reichstag were protected from every attack, the question of treating the franchise for other bodies as a subordinate one could be justified to a certain extent, although it would be a mistake to make light of it. But the franchise for the Reichstag is not secure at all. Governments and government parties will certainly not resolve lightly on amending it, for they will say to themselves that such a step would raise amongst the masses of the German workers a hate and bitterness, which they would show in a very uncomfortable way on suitable occasions. The socialist movement is too strong, the political self-consciousness of the German workers is too much developed, to be dealt with in a cavalier fashion. One may venture, also, to assume that a great number even of the opponents of universal suffrage have a certain moral unwillingness to take such a right from the people. But if under normal conditions the curtailing of the franchise would create a revolutionary tension, with all its dangers for the governing classes, there can, on the other hand, be no doubt as to the existence of serious technical difficulties in the way of altering the franchise so as to allow, only as an exception, the success of independent socialist candidatures. It is simply political considerations which, on this question, determine the issue.

On this and other grounds it does not seem advisable to make the policy of social democracy solely dependent on the conditions and possibilities of the imperial franchise. We have, moreover, seen that progress is not so quickened by it as might have been inferred from the electoral successes of 1890 and 1893. Whilst the socialist vote in the triennial period from 1887 to 1890 rose 87 per cent, and from 1890 to 1893 25 per cent, in the five years from 1893 to 1898 it only rose 18 per cent – an important increase in itself, but not an increase to justify extraordinary expectations in the near future.

Now social democracy depends not exclusively on the franchise and Parliamentary activity. A great and rich field exists for it outside Parliaments. The socialist working class movement would exist even if Parliaments were closed to it. Nothing shows this better than the gratifying movements among the Russian working classes. But with its exclusion from representative bodies the German working class movement would, to a great extent, lose the cohesion which to-day links its various sections; it would assume a chaotic character, and instead of the steady, uninterrupted forward march with firm steps, jerky forward motions would appear with inevitable back-slidings and exhaustions.

Such a development is neither in the interest of the working classes nor can it appear desirable to those opponents of social democracy who have become convinced that the present social order has not been created for all eternity but is subject to the law of change, and that a catastrophic development with all its horrors and devastation can only be avoided if in legislation consideration is paid to changes in the conditions of production and commerce and to the evolution of the classes. And the number of those who recognise this is steadily increasing. Their influence would be much greater than it is to-day if the social democracy could find the courage to emancipate itself from a phraseology which is actually outworn and if it would make up its mind to appear what it is in reality to-day: a democratic, socialistic party of reform.

This is our longest reading of the year. Probably for the rest of the year as well.

It is not a question of renouncing the so-called right of revolution, this purely speculative right which can be put in no paragraph of a constitution and which no statute book can prohibit, this right which will last as long as the law of nature forces us to die if we abandon the right to breathe. This imprescriptible and inalienable right is as little touched if we place ourselves on the path of reform as the right of self-defence is done away with when we make laws to regulate our personal and property disputes.

Communism Is How We Forcibly Break Apart the Organized Power of the Capitalist Class
   To tell us what needs to be guarded in the van, write to   ?s    YTD We Deserve So Much Better Than This