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Bismarck’s Reichstag Speech on the Law for Workers’ Compensation (March 15, 1884)

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Deputy von Vollmar has expressed his astonishment that [ . . . ] we are making new and different proposals. Gentlemen, that is not our fault. Yesterday Deputy Bamberger* compared the business of government with that of a cobbler who measures shoes, which he thereupon examines as to whether they are suitable for him or not and accordingly accepts or rejects them. I am by no means dissatisfied with this humble comparison, by which you place the united governments in the perspective of a shoemaker taking measurements for Herr Bamberger. The profession of government in the sense of Frederick the Great is to serve the people, and may it be also as a cobbler; the opposite is to dominate the people. We want to serve the people. But I make the demand on Herr Bamberger that he act as my co-shoemaker in order to make sure that no member of the public goes barefoot, and to create a suitable shoe for the people in this crucial area.


Up to now I find that lacking.

Deputy von Vollmar then proceeded to the connection that he imputes between our proposal and the Socialist Law.** It is not correct, as he conceives it, that we made the proposal in order to win more support for the Socialist Law. There is, indeed, a connection between the two, but it is quite different. At the time of the submission of the Socialist Law the government, and particularly His Majesty the Emperor and, if I am not in error, also the majority of the Reichstag, underwrote certain promissory notes for the future and gave assurances that as a corollary to this Socialist Law a serious effort for the betterment of the fate of the workers should go hand in hand. In my opinion that is the complement to the Socialist Law; if you have persistently decided not to improve the situation of the workers, then I understand that you reject the Socialist Law. For it is an injustice on the one hand to hinder the self-defense of a large class of our fellow citizens and on the other hand not to offer them aid for the redress of that which causes the dissatisfaction. That the Social Democratic leaders wish no advantage for this law, that I understand; dissatisfied workers are just what they need. Their mission is to lead, to rule, and the necessary prerequisite for that is numerous dissatisfied classes. They must naturally oppose any attempt of the government, however well intentioned it may be, to remedy this situation, if they do not wish to lose control over the masses they mislead.

Therefore, I place no value on the objections that come from the leaders of the Social Democrats; I would place a very high value on the objections that come from the workers in general. Our workers, thank God, are not all Social Democrats and are not to such a degree unresponsive to the efforts of the confederated governments to help them, perhaps also not to the difficulties that these efforts meet in the parliamentary arena. The parliament has indeed the right to prevent any progress on our legislation; you have the absolute veto with regard to legislation, and through the uncontrolled exercise of this veto you can certainly paralyze legislation, whether it be because you oppose the government on principle, or whether you do so only opportunely, but consistently in each individual case. [ . . . ] The parliamentary element, if it is used only as an obstacle, if proof is provided to the people that it refuses its cooperation to the benevolent intentions of the government, that it has only a simple no, that it makes no attempt to help the government – that must of course to a high degree prove self-destructive and self-diminishing. This I would consider a great misfortune, since I do not know how we could compensate for that. I in no way support an absolutist government. I believe properly exercised parliamentary cooperation to be as necessary and as useful as I consider parliamentary control damaging and impossible.

(Bravo, from the right.)

* Ludwig Bamberger (1823–99), banker and cofounder of the Liberal Party.–ED.
** A law passed in 1878 that made the Social Democratic party illegal, though it did not prevent members of the party from being elected to the Reichstag.–ED.

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