Social Democracy 1891

Erfurt Programme
of the Social Democratic Party of Germany

The economic development of the bourgeois society leads by a necessity of nature to the downfall of the small production, the basis of which is the private property of the workman in his means of production. It separates the workman from the means of his production, and transforms him into a proletarian without property, whilst the means of production become the monopoly of a comparatively small number of capitalists and great landowners.

This monopolising of the means of production is accompanied by the supplanting of the scattered small production through the colossal great production, by the development of the tool into the machine, and by gigantic increase of the productivity of human labour. But all the advantages of this transformation are monopolised by the capitalists and great landowners. For the proletariat and the sinking intermediate grades – small tradesmen and peasant proprietors – it means increasing insecurity of their existence, increase of misery, of oppression, of servitude, degradation, and exploitation.

Ever greater grows the number of the proletarians, ever larger the army of superfluous workmen, ever wider the chasm between exploiters and exploited, ever bitterer the class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, which divides modern society into two hostile camps, and is the common characteristic of all industrial lands.

The gulf between rich and poor is further widened through the crises which naturally arise out of the capitalistic method of production, which always become more sweeping and destructive, which render the general insecurity the normal condition of society, and prove that the productive forces have outgrown the existing society, that private property in the means of production is incompatible with their rational application and full development.

Private property in the instruments of production, which in former times was the means of assuring to the producer the property in his own product, has now become the means of expropriating peasant proprietors, hand-workers and small dealers, and of placing the non-workers, capitalists and great landowners in the possession of the product of the workmen. Only the conversion of the capitalistic private property in the means of production – land, mines, raw material, tools, machines, means of communication – into social property, and the transformation of the production of wares into socialistic production, carried on for and through society, can bring it about that the great production and the continually increasing productivity of social labour may become for the hitherto exploited classes, instead of a source of misery and oppression, a source of the highest welfare and of all-sided harmonious development.

This social transformation means the emancipation, not merely of the proletariat, but of the entire human race which suffers under the present conditions. But it can only be the work of the labouring class, because all other classes, in spite of their mutually conflicting interests, stand on the ground of private property in the means of production, and have as their common aim the maintenance of the bases of the existing society.

The struggle of the working class against capitalistic exploitation is of necessity a political struggle. The working class cannot conduct its economic struggle and cannot develop its economic organisation, without political rights. It cannot effect the change of the means of production into the possession of the collective society without coming into possession of political power.

To shape this struggle of the working class into a conscious and united one, and to point out to its inevitable goal, this is the task of the Social Democratic Party.

In all lands where the capitalistic method of production prevails, the interests of the working classes are alike. With the extension of the world commerce and of the production for the world market, the condition of the workmen of every single land always grows more dependent on the condition of the workmen in other lands. The emancipation of the working class is therefore a task in which the workers of all civilised countries are equally interested. Recognising this the Social Democratic party of Germany feels and declares itself at one with the class-conscious workers of all other countries.

The Social Democratic party of Germany therefore contends, not for new class privileges and exclusive rights, but for the abolition of class rule and of classes themselves, and for equal rights and equal duties of all without distinction of sex and descent. Proceeding from these views it struggles in the present society, not only against exploitation and oppression of the wage-workers, but against every kind of exploitation and oppression, whether directed against class, party, sex, or race.

Proceeding from these principles the Social Democratic party of Germany now demands –

  1. Universal, equal, and direct suffrage, with vote by ballot, for all men and women of the Empire over twenty years of age. Proportional electoral system; and, till the introduction of this, legal redistribution of seats after every census. Biennial legislative periods. Elections to take place on a legal day of rest. Payment of representatives. Abolition of all limitation of political rights, except in the case of disenfranchisement.
  2. Direct legislation through the people, by means of the right of initiative and referendum. Self-government of the people in Empire, State, Province, and Commune. Officials to be elected by the people; responsibility of officials. Yearly granting of taxes.
  3. Training in universal military duty. A people’s army in place of the standing armies. Decision on peace and war by the representatives of the people. Settlement of all international differences by arbitration.
  4. Abolition of all laws which restrict or suppress the free expression of opinion and the right of union and meeting.
  5. Abolition of all laws, which, in public or private matters, place women at a disadvantage as compared with men.
  6. Religion declared to be a private matter. No public funds to be applied to ecclesiastical and religious purposes. Ecclesiastical and religious bodies are to be regarded as private associations which manage their own affairs in a perfectly independent manner.
  7. Secularisation of the school. Obligatory attendance at the public people’s schools. Education, the appliances of learning, and maintenance free in the public people’s school, as also in the higher educational institutions for those scholars, both male and female, who, by reason of their talents, are thought to be suited for further instruction.
  8. Administration of justice and legal advice to be free. Justice to be administered by judges chosen by the people. Appeal in criminal cases. Compensation for those who are innocently accused, imprisoned, and condemned. Abolition of capital punishment.
  9. Medical treatment, including midwifery and the means of healing, to be free. Free burial.
  10. Progressive income and property taxes to meet all public expenditure, so far as these are to be covered by taxation. Duty of making one’s own return of income and property. Succession duty to be graduated according to amount and relationship. Abolition of all indirect taxes, customs, and other financial measures which sacrifice the collective interests of a privileged minority.

For the protection of the working class the Social Democratic party of Germany demands –

  1. An effective national and international protective legislation for workmen on the following bases:
    1. Fixing of a normal working day of not more than eight hours.
    2. Prohibition of money-making labour of children under fourteen years.
    3. Prohibition of night work, except for those branches of industry which from their nature, owing to technical reasons or reasons of public welfare, require night work.
    4. An unbroken period of rest of at least thirty-six hours in every week for every worker.
    5. Prohibition of the truck system.
  2. Supervision of all industrial establishments, investigation and regulation of the conditions of labour in town and country by an imperial labour department, district labour offices, and labour chambers. A thorough system of industrial hygiene.
  3. Agricultural labourers and servants to be placed on the same footing as industrial workers; abolition of servants’ regulations.
  4. The right of combination to be placed on a sure footing.
  5. Undertaking of the entire working mens’ insurance by the Empire, with effective co-operation of the workmen in its administration.