GHDI logo

Baron Hans Hermann von Berlepsch, "Why We Advocate Social Reform" (1903)

page 2 of 3    print version    return to list previous document      next document

And now I ask: is there really any better way to advance the Social Democratic cause of those who preach again and again to the workers that in bourgeois society, and among those in power, they will receive no assistance, find no justice, and that together these elements constitute a reactionary multitude that is intent upon enriching themselves at the expense of the workers – than to curtail the path of the workers towards self-help, the only path that would allow them to attain equal footing with management in the economic struggle for better working conditions? Or, as yet another example, what better way to advance the Social Democratic cause than to apply to the workers’ coalitions and their professional organizations legislation that by necessity must generate in those affected by it the feeling of having been treated unjustly? I know of no other more effective means of strengthening the Social Democratic Party than just such practices – unless, of course, one compares them to acts of violent suppression by the police. Whoever has not yet grasped in today’s world that for the foreseeable future we will have to reckon with the Social Democratic Party as the representative of the majority of industrial workers, and whoever today still imagines that he can break the hold of the Social Democratic Party on the working classes through force or small-minded police actions has not only been struck blind but, if he also has influence on the direction of politics in governmental matters, is highly dangerous, since, on the basis of a false diagnosis, he will reach for the wrong means to solve the problem.

The mission of circumspect politicians cannot be the elimination of the Social Democratic Party, since they would only work in vain towards this end; rather, it should be the elimination of the barriers that stand between the Social Democratic Party as it is now and its transformation into a workers’ party that attempts, without class hatred and without waging a war of annihilation against existing circumstances, but rather by way of reform and social development, to secure for workers a place in the sun, to which they are entitled, like every other citizen. And one of the most difficult barriers to this transformation is the failure of the guarantee of equal rights in the economic struggle for better working conditions. And for this reason any social reform that does not encompass the “demands generated by the efforts of the workers in unions and professional organizations to improve their situation,” or the rights of workers according to the Imperial Edict of February 4, 1890, or the exemption of the statutes governing coalitions and construction unions for workers from the constraints of the political union laws is not really social reform at all.

I know well that various severe charges are being leveled against workers’ organizations. They have been accused of terrorizing workers who do not support the Social Democratic Party and also of misusing force. Here, as in all such cases, I consider the use of force against a weaker party (regardless of whether it is only temporarily or more permanently the weaker party) for the purpose of achieving material advantage to be one of the most offensive aspects of our social life. But is it just the workers’ unions that are guilty in this respect? Is it not common knowledge, for instance, that the trust of petroleum producers has used every available means to eliminate unwanted competitors, that it has subjugated petroleum producers around the world, right down to the smallest retail dealer? In the context of these accusations of strikes and terrorism, shouldn’t we also consider lockouts and blacklists? – In addition to the not infrequent refusal of management to call upon the appropriate legal tribunal to resolve or prevent labor disputes? [ . . . ]

first page < previous   |   next > last page