Justice September 27 1913

Congress of the German Social Democratic Party at Jena

Source: Anon., Justice, p.3. September 27 1913;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

The Congress began its business punctually at nine o’clock on the morning of September 15, the first subject on the agenda being the report of the Party Executive. The discussion was opened by comrades Scheidemann, who dealt mainly with the political part of the report, Otto Braun, who spoke on the Treasurer’s Report, and Brühne on behalf of the Board of Control. This latter body combines the duties of general accountants for all Party business and referees in cases of disputes between members and committees or officials of the Party.


This discussion was mainly directed to the alleged shortcomings of the Executive in the matter of the Military Bill. Several speakers expressed their opinion that the Executive had not done enough in organising the campaign in the country against the increase of the army, quite apart from the question as to how the increased expenditure was to be met. The answer was that once it became known that all other parties had pledged themselves to vote for the army increase the interest amongst the general public flagged, the more so as the Government proposals regarding finance contemplated clearly the taxation of property only. The masses outside the Party took the increase itself as a foregone conclusion and a settled thing, and were rather pleased that the well-to-do and the rich people would have to pay for it. Once these facts were established no amount of agitation could have changed the situation, though the Party Executive, as Scheidemann showed, had done all that it was possible to do. Early in July a meeting of the Representative Board or General Committee took place. This Board consists of leading men from all parts of Germany. This meeting came to the unanimous decision that it was of no use to try to revive the flagging interest.

A great number of proposals concerning the Press, the propaganda amongst the young people and other matters were discussed, the most important of which was the resolution empowering the Executive and the General Committee to appoint a commission fur studying the agricultural question in all its bearings on Party policy and propaganda, the Commission to have money at its disposal for paying such of its members as may be necessary to enable them to devote their whole time to the matter.


The second day was set apart for the discussion of the mass strike, the resolutions before the Congress being one of the Executive, in which the necessity of using this weapon is clearly recognised, while stress is laid upon the preliminary work of strengthening the political and economic organisations of the working class (Social-Democratic Party and trade unions), the other an amendment in which the ideas expressed in the Executive resolution were set forth at greater length and in more emphatic language, with the addition of a paragraph calling for “resolute, offensive, and consistent tactics of the Party in all respects, tactics which deliberately adopt mass action as the central and most important part of the struggle, as the only means calculated to keep at its highest pitch energy and idealism in the ranks of the organised workers, and to enable them to sweep along, in decisive moments, the bulk of the unorganised masses, thus gaining their permanent adherence to the political and economic organisations.”


This resolution, signed by over thirty delegates, amongst whom we may mention Rosa Luxemburg, Clara Zetkin, Ledebour, Liebknecht, became the battle-ground in the discussion, which was throughout on a very high level, entirely free, apart from a few harmless pleasantries, of all personal bitterness and recrimination. It must not be supposed that it was a struggle between “Revisionists” and “Radicals,” a division about which much was heard in former years, but which has practically: disappeared. Three prominent “Revisionists,” Bernstein, Frank (Mannheim), and David (Mayence) spoke in the debate. Bernstein stated that he was probably the first to advocate a mass strike as, under certain circumstances, advisable and even indispensable. He would vote for the Executive resolution, but would not go an inch beyond it. David, while holding that the question of franchise reform in Prussia was the central question of home politics in Germany, expressed his profound conviction that for years to come the adoption of the mass strike would lead only to a terrible catastrophe. It would be impossible to overcome in this way the organised power of the military and police State, supported as the State would be not only by the two million or so of the privileged classes, but by fully six millions of the masses who are still against us. He declared strongly against the idea of provoking collisions so as to strengthen revolutionary fervour. This would lead to a complete disorganisation an utter defeat of the movement for at least a generation.


Dr. Frank said that when shortly after the Prussian General Election he made a speech in the neighbourhood of Berlin advocating the mass strike as a means of bringing about franchise reform in Prussia, he did so for the deliberate purpose of making it quite clear to all whom it might concern that on this question there was no divergence between Right and Left wing – South and North – that all over Germany there was a united battlefront, that there would be no peace in Prussia or in the rest of Germany until the present monstrous electoral system has been done away with. Turning to the Executive resolution, he said it was quite unexceptional in phrasing, but somehow he seemed to feel that there was no real energetic purpose behind the words. He concluded with the words: “We must make it quite clear to the world outside, we must take care that no doubt remains, that either there is a franchise reform in Prussia or there will be a mass strike. That must remain the watchword.”


The character of Frank’s speech may be judged from tile fact that Ledebour, who spoke immediately after him, declared his complete agreement with what Frank had said. Three prominent trade unionists spoke in the debate, generally supporting the Executive resolution; while Bauer, of the General Commission of Trade Unions, had devoted himself mainly to combating the revolutionary phraseology which he detected in the Luxemburg resolution, and warned his hearers against over-estimating the success of the Belgian strike. Silberschmidt declared later on in the debate, in answer to certain criticisms of the trade union view, that the unions took their stand on the previous Congress resolutions, and were quite prepared to act up to them. In time of danger the mass strike would not be kept on the shelf in the cupboard to be gazed upon as a precious jewel, but used as a powerful weapon wielded by strong and self-reliant organisations. There was danger in idle discussions, which could lead nowhere for the present, and only raised false hopes and expectations. The responsible authorities of the unions had declared their agreement with the resolution proposed by the Executive, and would stand by it. They were against the mass strike in the Syndicalist sense, but would fight as heretofore as organised masses. They were quite capable, when the necessity should arise, of making all preparations in a very few months.

There is no space to refer to the many other interesting speeches made, but the words with which Grunbach (Alsace) opened his speech, midway in the discussion, may be quoted: “So far nobody has said ‘at once’ and nobody has said ‘never.’” In the end the Luxemburg resolution was defeated, on a roll call, by 333 votes against 142 votes, after which the Executive resolution was adopted, two votes only being cast against it.


Wednesday was mainly devoted to at discussion on the activity, or want of activity, of the Parliamentary Party. The main points touched upon were the debates on the Military Bill, the insufficient attendance on one occasion when proportional representation was defeated by one vote, and certain minor delinquencies of the 110 deputies. Ledebour, for once on the defence, pointed out that the position in the Reichstag has changed considerably since the Party has become so strong. The other parties, especially towards the end of a session, simply sat still and voted, without attempting to rebut the criticisms of the Socialist speakers. An exhaustive debate was thereby very often rendered impossible. A number of resolutions, embodying suggestions for the Parliamentary work, were referred to the Parliamentary Party by way of recommendation; a resolution endorsing the demand of Alsace-Lorraine for full autonomy as a Republican State within the Empire was carried, and sanction was given later on to the holding of a Socialist Women’s Congress in 1914.


On Thursday forenoon the question of unemployment insurance was discussed at length. The first speaker, Timm, gave an exhaustive survey, of what has been done in various countries by way of State insurance; municipal subventions, etc., to mitigate the terrible position in which large numbers of workmen are plunged during the periods of bad trade and depression. He recalled the words of Bismarck in a debate of 1884, when speaking against the Radical Richter, who had condemned the interference of the State with the free play of economic forces. Bismarck then said: “Give the workman the right to work, as long as he is in health,” and “it is the business of the State to care for the maintenance of those citizens who cannot earn their own living.” Timm showed that while sick, injured and old people had, in a small way, been cared for since then, nothing had been done for the victims of unemployment, and ascribed this to the growing influence of the industrial magnates on the decisions of the Government.

The resolution proposed by Timm called for the immediate taking in hand of all public works already sanctioned by the state and municipalities to reduce as far as possible the present mass of unemployment. After declaring that permanent unemployment with periodic aggravations is a necessary concomitant of the capitalist system of production, which will disappear entirely only with the introduction of Socialist production, it goes on to say that the evil consequences of this phase of capitalism can be diminished to a great extent by a general compulsory insurance of all workers and employees as a public institution on the basis laid down by the Trades Union Congress of Dresden (1911) and the International Socialist Congress of Copenhagen (1910). Until this is accomplished, demands should be put forward for a system of refunding part of the expense now borne by the trade unions by means of subventions from the municipalities and the States of the Empire. This resolution was carried unanimously, and the speech of Timm was ordered to be printed for mass distribution as a pamphlet, so as to make the information contained therein accessible to the widest possible circles. The Party itself will undertake a campaign during the autumn and winter in favour of the proposals.


Thursday afternoon and all day on Friday were given over to a discussion of the attitude of the Party towards taxation. This is a highly technical and complicated subject for a working-class Party, which has got beyond the first stage of Parliamentary activity, that of protest and denunciation. The German Party has now arrived at the stage when it can, under certain circumstances and to a certain extent, modify legislation and the system of taxation. The Party is, of course, against all taxation of wages, on the simple ground that even untaxed wages are not sufficient to allow the great mass of workmen a standard of living necessary for civilised human beings. For that reason it votes always and everywhere against practically all indirect taxation. The question becomes more difficult when it is a question of direct taxation of income, property taxes, death duties, increment taxes, etc. The difficulty became acute during the discussion of the Finance Bill last summer, when the Party had to make up its mind whether, the “amen” having been voted by all the other parties, it should or should not vote in such a way as to make the raising of the “money” the least harmful for the mass of the people. A minority of the Parliamentary Party was in favour of voting both against the non-recurrent levy and the various property taxes proposed for meeting the permanent increase of expenditure. Some, again, would vote against the former on the ground that its acceptance by the other parties was a certainty, but for the latter, as their rejection might lead to indirect taxes being substituted. The majority of the Party, however, decided to vote for both, and the vote of the whole Party was cast accordingly.

In the discussion, opened in two long speeches by comrades Wurm and Sudekum, all these views and a few more found expression, but finally the resolution proposed by Warm was adopted, on a roll call, by 336 against 140 votes, and a further resolution of thanks and confidence in the Parliamentary Party was adopted by a large majority on a show of hands. Wurm’s resolution means that the Party may vote for direct taxes, provided that their acceptance does not involve a vote in favour of objects to which the Party is opposed, and provided also that their non-acceptance would result in oppressive taxation for the working class.


The last day of the Congress was spent in discussing the perennial subject of how best to organise the First of May Demonstrations. Finally, all resolutions on this subject were dealt with by the passing of an Executive resolution which practically leaves things as they are till the next International Congress. A number of complaints regarding expulsions, suspensions and other internal matters, elections, etc., filled up the remainder of the day.

The Congress, remarkable for the high level of discussion, the demonstration of absolute unity on all essential questions and the firm resolve to maintain intact the organisation and the purpose of the Party, was closed by cheers for the German and the International Social-Democracy.