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The Minister of the Interior on Domestic Reform (May 1915)

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The desires that have been publicly discussed fall mainly into two categories. On the one hand, they focus on reform of the Prussian suffrage, and, on the other hand, on rescinding all so-called emergency laws, that is, legal provisions that are directed against particular political parties – above all, those that have been decreed for the protection of Germandom – or those that are directed primarily against particular classes of the population or political parties. The question of the Prussian suffrage and the so-called Polish policy of the Prussian government can be disregarded here. We are therefore talking primarily about a modification of the Law on Associations and provisions that regulate the so-called right of assembly for workers. As far as the Law on Associations is concerned, at issue is a modification of §1, 12 and 17. To the extent that Social Democrats have expressed their sentiments in this regard, they essentially have to do with reshaping these paragraphs, inasmuch as they limit activities of the trade unions. The Socialists demand a provision that exempts the trade unions from the Law on Associations. Such a provision would mean that the trade unions would be privileged over all other corporations and economic and political associations. Nothing would prevent youths from joining unions. Likewise, language restrictions would not apply to trade-union meetings. If the Social Democratic side nevertheless also expressly demands the elimination of §17, it contends that this paragraph involves an intensification of the Prussian Law on Associations, which prohibits only students and apprentices from belonging to political associations. The Socialists claim further that, particularly in Prussia, the operation of §17 has resulted in prohibiting youths from belonging to any kind of associations that are affiliated in any way with the Social Democratic Party. That these complaints have a certain justification cannot be denied. Prussian administrative practice does tend to treat under the Law on Associations trade unions that have any sort of ties to the Social Democratic Party. This practice obviously does not do justice to the predominantly economic significance of the trade unions, and it belies declarations that the government made when the Law on Associations was passed. These declarations gave assurances that trade unions that limit their activities to those described in §152 of the Industrial Code would not fall under the Law on Associations. Furthermore, there can be little doubt that the Law on Associations has also been applied to youth groups that, although led by Social Democrats, restrict themselves in general to activities that are not political, such as the gymnastic associations and the so-called workers’ educational associations. Events and assemblies of youths have in fact been forbidden when the agenda simply comprised recitations of the German classics and musical performances of innocuous content. All these complaints would be eliminated were the actual practice of the authorities more liberal, particularly in Prussia – that is to say, if the law were interpreted not expansively but restrictively. Because, however, even if such a practice were to be introduced, no long-term promises could be given; the Socialists demand legal guarantees.

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