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Socialist "Revisionism": The Immediate Tasks of Social Democracy (1899)
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As far as the agrarian question is concerned, even those who believe that the peasant economy is doomed have altered their views considerably as to the time it will take for this to occur. And while profound differences of opinion on this point have played a part in the more recent debates on the kind of agrarian policy that Social Democracy should endorse, in principle these debates have revolved around the question of whether – and if so, then up to what point – Social Democracy should lend support to the peasant as such, that is, as an independent entrepreneur, against capitalism. [ . . . ]

[ . . . ] In my mind, [ . . . ] the chief tasks of Social Democracy vis-à-vis the rural population can be divided into three groups, namely:

1. Opposition to all remaining remnants and pillars of land-holding feudalism and the struggle for democracy in municipality and district. That is, support for the abolition of entail, manorial holdings, hunting privileges, and so on. [ . . . ]

2. Protection and relief for the agricultural working classes. This includes worker protection in the narrower senses: abolition of the regulation for domestics, limitation on working time for the various categories of wage-workers, health policy, education, and such measures as would provide tax relief to the small farmer. [ . . . ]

3. Struggle against the absolutism of property and support for the cooperative system. This category includes demands such as “limitation on the rights of private ownership of the soil in order to promote: 1) separation, the abolition of the aggregation of land, 2) land cultivation, 3) the prevention of epidemics, [ . . . ] the reduction of excessive land rents through courts established for that purpose, [ . . . ] the construction of healthy and comfortable housing for workers by the municipalities, the facilitation of co-operative unions by legislation, [ . . . ] the right of municipalities to acquire land through purchase or expropriation and to lease it to workers and workers’ cooperatives for low rent.”

The last demand brings us to the question of cooperatives. [ . . . ] The issue today is no longer whether or not there should be cooperatives. They exist and will exist, whether Social Democracy likes it or not. To be sure, it could and can slow the spread of workers’ cooperatives through the weight of its influence on the working class, but it would not be doing a service to itself or the working class. There is likewise little to recommend the rigid Manchester system, which is often held up within the party against the cooperative movement and justified with the explanation that no socialist cooperatives can exist within capitalist society. Instead, the important thing is to take a certain position and to be very clear about which cooperatives Social Democracy can recommend and morally support in accordance with its means, and which it cannot. [ . . . ]

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