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

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You see also that for many years, ever since the government of the July Monarchy,* social conditions in France have been unsettled, and I believe that in the long run France will not be able to avoid promoting somewhat more state socialism than it has up to now. Was not also, for example, the Stein-Hardenberg** legislation?? of glorious memory, the constitutional justification and appropriateness of which no one today doubts anymore, state socialism? Is there a stronger state socialism than when the law declares: I take away from the property owner a certain part of his real estate and transfer it to the tenant farmer, whom he had on the property up to that point? [ . . . ] Whoever censures state socialism completely must also repudiate the Stein-Hardenberg legislation. He must altogether refuse the state the right, whenever law and privilege combine to form a chain and a coercive force which hinders our free breathing, to cut with the knife of the surgeon and create new and healthy conditions. [ . . . ]

I can pass on in general to the comments of Deputy Bamberger because to a certain extent he has summed up the preceding speakers and can therefore serve as a guide. The Deputy mentioned in the introduction to his speech that “yesterday,” therefore the day before yesterday, “once again as a prelude to the day’s agenda the perniciousness and reprehensibleness of any opposition was indicated.” Gentlemen, it is however not correct to so characterize my position toward the matter as if I had treated any opposition as reprehensible. I have only refused on my part to cooperate with the goals of the opposition; my whole speech at that time can be summarized in the sentence: I do not wish to allow myself to be harnessed to the triumphant wagon of the opposition.

[ . . . ]

In my opinion, a primary reason for the success that the leaders of the real Social Democracy have had with their never clearly defined future goals lies in the fact that the state does not promote enough state socialism; it allows a vacuum to form in a place where it should be active, and this is filled by others, by agitators who poke their nose into the state’s business. [ . . . ] Deputy von Vollmar has for his own part admitted [ . . . ] that the ideals of Social Democracy could not actually be implemented in one individual state, but rather would only be attainable if a general, international foundation existed. I believe that also, and therefore I believe them to be impossible, since this international basis will never exist; but even if internationalism comes some day, the interim period might be long enough to find a modus vivendi that is somewhat more bearable and pleasant for the oppressed and suffering among us. We cannot comfort them with promises that perhaps are not even payable in the next century; we must provide something that has value from tomorrow or the next day.

[ . . . ]

Deputy Bamberger has objected that the proposed organization is not compatible with the word free and with the concept of freedom; there would be too much compulsion therein and a motto for the whole law would be: “If you aren’t willing, I’ll use force!” Gentlemen, freedom is a vague concept; no one has a use for the freedom to starve. But here freedom is also in my opinion not at all limited and not in contradiction with itself. The proposal intends a freedom in the organization, but it makes the execution obligatory.

[ . . . ]

The expression “If you aren’t willing, I’ll use force” is totally unjustified. There scarcely exists nowadays a word with which more abuse is committed than the word free.

* Established 1830.–ED
** Laws abolishing serfdom and regulating property relations in Prussia, 1807–11.–ED.

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