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

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The workers’ movement as a whole is dissatisfied with this situation and is attempting to improve it by exerting influence on determining working conditions and by demanding government intervention. According to its perception, the current authorities of government and society are not only not providing the movement with the assistance it has called for but are also erecting barriers to its demands for equal rights in its economic struggles. For this reason, many wage laborers are hostile towards these authorities and their responsible institutions. These workers have distanced themselves as a class from all the other social groups in the state, are now engaged in class struggle, and are convinced that an improvement in their situation can be brought about only through the actions of the workers’ movement itself. A deep rift has opened between this segment of wage laborers and the rest of the population of our Fatherland, making mutual understanding almost impossible; and only recently over the past decade have a few bridges been built, now and then, upon which a reconciliation may be possible. There can be no doubt that the inner peace of our Fatherland has been shattered and endangered in the most serious manner.

In light of this very challenging situation, we, who have come together in the Society for Social Reform have taken on the following dual task:

First, to work in a careful yet consistent and energetic fashion to improve the inadequate situation of the wage laborers, to eliminate misery from the lives of the working classes, to progressively increase the number of workers whose lives are not fully consumed by the struggle for existence, and thus:

Second, to eliminate the discontent among wage laborers by striving to eliminate the causes of this discontent, and, consequently, to give the laboring workforce the conviction that it does not stand completely alone, opposed to all other social classes, in its struggle for a better existence, and, in short, to restore the inner peace of our Fatherland.

We oppose all use of force and coercion against the workers’ movement as long as this movement does not violate current criminal law. Furthermore, we want to see this movement protected by the rule of law, and we strive for this in the firm conviction, bolstered by the experience we have gained here in Germany, even in light of the so-called Anti-Socialist Law, that while it may be possible to achieve temporary successes and to address superficial symptoms of our social problems with the use of force and coercion, through these means we can never change attitudes. [ . . . ]

Source: Baron Hans Hermann von Berlepsch, "Warum betreiben wir die soziale Reform" ["Why We Advocate Social Reform”], Schriften der Gesellschaft für Soziale Reform [Papers of the Society for Social Reform] 11 (1903).

Original German text reprinted in Ernst Schraepler, ed., Quellen zur Geschichte der sozialen Frage in Deutschland. 1871 bis zur Gegenwart [Sources on the History of the Social Question in Germany. 1871 to the Present]. 3rd edition. Göttingen, 1996, pp. 54-57.

Translation: Richard Pettit

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