Rosa Luxemburg

Eight-Hour Day at the Party Congress


First Published: Leipzeiger Volkszeitung, September 19, 1902.
Source: German: Ausgewählte Reden und Schriften, II (Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1951), pp.156-60; English: Selected Political Writings Rosa Luxemburg, 1971, edited by Dick Howard.
Translated: (from the German) Rosemarie Waldrop.
Transcription/Markup: Ted Crawford/Brian Baggins.
Copyright: Monthly Review Press © 1971. Printed with the permission of Monthly Review. Luxemburg Internet Archive ( 2004.

An extensive debate concerning the eight-hour day followed the report on parliamentary activity at our Party Congress last Wednesday and Thursday. It is true, it ended with the usual referral of demands to our parliamentary delegation. But I hope our representatives have nevertheless gathered from this debate that their procedure concerning the eight-hour day has caused a certain dissatisfaction in large segments of the Party. This debate, started by Comrade Eichhorn and many delegates from Berlin, was therefore quite useful. But it perhaps missed a few important points.

It would indeed grotesquely minimize the issue of our parliamentary tactics concerning the eight-hour day if we turned it into a mere question of the Reichstag’s order of business, as some of our representatives did at the Congress. Even admitting that the ordinary mortal comrade may lack the correct understanding of this mysterious and complicated matter called the Reichstag order of business, nevertheless, the order of business can only decide when and in what form we present the demand for an eight-hour day to the Reichstag. In our view, however, the heart of the matter is that our representatives are not asking for the eight-hour day at all, but so far only for the ten-hour day!

Comrade Rosenov’s report on parliamentary activity as well as Comrade Edmund Fischer’s remarks made it clear that our delegation considers it a mere formality and narrow pedantry to distinguish between demanding an eight-hour bill or a ten-hour bill with the prospect of a later eight-hour bill. But in fact this is not a matter of form, but of essential tactics.

It is clear that you must not demand a ten-hour day if you want the eight-hour day. Do the contrary and you’ll do well: if there is any possibility of getting legislation to limit working time to ten hours, it is only by constantly pressing for an eight-hour day. All our experiences point this up. Only by demanding from bourgeois society all that it is capable of granting have we succeeded here and there in obtaining a small part. It is a very new principle of so-called “practical politics” in our party to hope, on the contrary, to get great effects through mutest and moderate demands.

Therefore we consider Bebel’s argument, cited by Edmund Fischer, as completely wrong. Bebel suggests: we will demand the ten-hour day in order to force the bourgeois parties to prose they meant their often repeated promises of this reform. No matter how popular and appealing this tactical turn may seem, it altogether misses the mark. Nobody can possibly believe that our too extreme demands made it impossible for the bourgeois parties to show their good will. On the contrary, everyone knows very well that the bourgeois majority of the Reichstag could be absolutely certain of our support if ever they wanted to put through a bill for just the ten-hour day. No. it is exactly by demanding the eight-hour bill that we can force the bourgeoisie to show its good will at least with a more modest reform. Here as in other cases, it is only our pressure, our pushing the bourgeois reforms to extremes, which squeezes a quarter ounce of “good will” out of the bourgeoisie. It is obviously bad logic to count on bringing its so-called good will out by taking the pressure off.

It is true that our faction has by no means formally given up its demand for the eight-hour day, but it also has kept it only formally. The Social Democratic Party has been the only party consistently to stick to the unamended eight-hour bill. If even our party now postpones this bill in favor of a different, more easily achievable bill, we thereby admit its present impossibility. In that case, it is evident that bourgeois society will no longer considcr this reform at all. Put off until some time in the future, put after the more easily realized demand for the ten-hour bill, the eight-hour day will in fact be removed from practical politics for us. We must not deceive ourselves about this.

However, the legal eight-hour day is one of the demands on our minimal program. i.e., it is the very least minimum of social reform which we, as representatives of the workers’ interests, must demand and expect from the present state. The fragmentation of even these minimal demands into still smaller morsels goes against all our tactics. We must make our minimum demands in unamended form. Even if we are ready to accept any installment, we must leave it to the bourgeois parties themselves to whittle down our demands to fit their interests.

If, on the other hand, we choose the way our delegation has taken concerning the eight-hour day, we stop being the party of the most advanced social progress. Indeed, how do we look even now with our ten-hour bill, compared to the petition of the Christian Miners’ Association of Upper Silesia for the eight-hour day? And above all, in how awkward a position do we put our unions! They are already fighting for the nine-hour or eight-hour day and have even pushed it through here and there.

But let us have aside all practical considerations. The changing of our minimal demands into the yet smaller coin of bourgeois demands, as we see in the question at hand, is also distressing because it shows a dangerous tendency. The remarks of our delegates Rosenov, Edmund Fischer, and others showed beyond any doubt that they have simply been hypnotized into believing that there is no prospect of the Reichstag passing the eight-hour bill. But if we ourselves start believing that our demands are excessive and practically impossible, then we are making the saddest moral concession to bourgeois society.

We do not have much hope that the proposals referred to out representatives will immediately influence their procedure in the Reichstag. There is all the more reason to heed the excellent arguments of comrade Zetkin that the heart of our fight for the eight-hour day must be outside: in the country, in agitation, not in the Reichstag. In this issue too, our parliamentary actions must he prompted and given the necessary impetus by the great mass of workers. And the latter know no diplomatic tricks: they stand fast by the cause of the eight-hour day, a cause that international Social Democracy has pleaded for decades, a cause for which twelve May Days have been celebrated with heavy sacrifices.

Last updated on: 29.11.2008