Eduard Bernstein

Evolutionary Socialism

Chapter III
The Tasks and Possibilities of Social Democracy


(c) Democracy and Socialism

“On February 24th, 1848, broke the first dawn of a new period of history.”
“Who speaks of universal suffrage utters a cry of reconciliation.”

LASSALLE, Workers’ Programme.

The trade unions concern themselves with the profit rate in production as the co-operative stores concern themselves with the profit rate on the sale of goods. The fight of the workmen organised in trade unions for the improvement of their standard of life is from the standpoint of the capitalist a fight between wage rate and profit rate. It is certainly too great an exaggeration to say that the changes in the rates of wages and the hours of labour have no influence at all on prices. If the wages of workers in a certain industry rise, the value of the corresponding products rises in a corresponding ratio as against the value of the product of all industries which experience no such rise in wages, and if the class of employers concerned do not succeed in meeting this rise by an improvement of machinery, they must either raise the price of the product concerned or suffer a loss in the profit rate. In this respect the different industries are very differently placed. There are industries which, on account of the nature of their products or of their monopolistic organisation, are fairly independent of the world market, and then a rise in wages is mostly accompanied by a rise in prices also, so that the profit rate does not need to fall but can even rise. [20]

In industries for the world market, as in all other industries where commodities produced under various conditions compete with one another, and only the cheapest command the market, the rise in wages almost always results in a lowering of profit rate. The same result occurs when, by the resistance of organised workers, an attempt fails to neutralise by a proportional lowering of wages, the lowering of prices rendered necessary by the struggle to sell. After all, a fight of the workers for wages can, in fact, be but a fight against the rise in the profit-rate at the cost of the wage-rate, however little the fighters are conscious of it at the moment.

There is no need to prove here that the fight regarding hours of labour is similarly a fight over the profit-rate. If the shorter day of labour does not directly cause a diminution in the amount of work done for the wage given hitherto – in many cases it is known the reverse happens – yet it leads by a side way to an increase in the workers’ demands for better conditions of life, and so makes a rise in wages necessary.

A rise in wages leading to an increase in prices does not, under certain circumstances, need to be an injury to the whole community; but is, however, more often harmful than useful in its effect. To the community, for instance, it makes no particular difference whether an industry exacts monopolist prices exclusively for a handful of employers, or whether the workers of that industry receive a certain share in such booty squeezed out of the public in general. The monopoly price is just as much worth fighting against as the cheapness of products which can only be achieved by the lowering of wages below the average minimum rate. But a rise in wages which only touches profit-rate must, under the conditions of the present day, be advantageous for the community in general. I say in general expressly, because there are also cases when the contrary is the case.

Fortunately, such extreme cases are very rare. Usually the workers know quite well how far they can go in their demands. The profit-rate, indeed, will bear a fairly strong pressure. Before the capitalist gives up his undertaking he will rather try every possible means to get a greater output for wages in other ways. The actual great differences of profit-rates in different spheres of production show that the general average profit-rate is constructed more easily in theory than even approximately realised. Instances are also not rare where even new capital that enters the market needing to be utilised does not seek the spot to which the highest profit-rate points, but, like a man in choosing his calling, allows itself to be guided by considerations in which the amount of profit takes a secondary place. Thus, even this most mighty factor for levelling profit-rates works irregularly. But the capital already invested, which greatly preponderates in each case, cannot for purely material reasons follow the movement of the profit-rate from one field of production to another. In short, the result of a rise in the price of human labour is, in by far the largest majority of cases, partly the greater perfection of machinery and the better organisation of industry, partly the more equable division of the surplus product. Both are advantageous to the general well-being. With certain limitations one can for capitalist countries modify Destutt de Tracy’s well-known saying to: “Low profit-rates indicate a high degree of well-being among the mass of the people.”

The trade unions are the democratic element in industry. Their tendency is to destroy the absolutism of capital, and to procure for the worker a direct influence in the management of an industry. It is only natural that great differences of opinion should exist on the degree of influence to be desired. To a certain mode of thought it may appear a breach of principle to claim less for the union than an unconditional right of decision in the trade. The knowledge that such a right under present circumstances is just as Utopian as it would be contrary to the nature of a socialist community, has led others to deny trade unions any lasting part in economic life, and to recognise them only temporarily as the lesser of various unavoidable evils. There are socialists in whose eyes the union is only an object lesson to prove the uselessness of any other than political revolutionary action. As a matter of fact, the union to-day-and in the near future -has very important social tasks to fulfil for the trades, which, however, do not demand, nor are even consistent with, its omnipotence in any way.

The merit of having first grasped the fact that trade unions are indispensable organs of the democracy, and not only passing coalitions, belongs to a group of English writers. This is not wonderful if one considers that trade unions attained importance in England earlier than anywhere else, and that England in the last third of the nineteenth century passed through a change from an oligarchic to an almost democratic state of government. The latest and most thorough work on this subject, the book on the theory and the practice of the British Trade Unions, by Sydney and Beatrice Webb, has been rightly described by the authors as a treatment of Industrial Democracy. Before them the late Thorold Rogers, in his lectures on the Economic Interpretation of History (which, in the passing, has little in common with the materialist conception of history, but only touches it in single points), called the trade union, Labour Partnership – which comes to the same thing in principle, but at the same time points out the limits to which the function of a trade union can extend in a democracy, and beyond which it has no place in a democratic community. Independently of whether the state, the community, or capitalists are employers, the trade union as an organisation of all persons occupied in certain trades can only further simultaneously the interests of its members and the general good as long as it is content to remain a partner. Beyond that it would run into danger of degenerating into a close corporation with all the worst qualities of a monopoly. It is the same as with the co-operative society. The trade union, as mistress of a whole branch of production, the ideal of various older socialists, would really be only a monopolist productive association, and as soon as it relied on its monopoly or worked upon it, it would be antagonistic to socialism and democracy, let its inner constitution be what it may. Why it is contrary to socialism needs no further explanation. Associations against the community are as little socialism as is the oligarchic government of the state. But why should such a trade union not be in keeping with the principles of a democracy?

This question necessitates another. What is the principle of democracy?

The answer to this appears very simple. At first one would think it settled by the definition “government by the people “ But even a little consideration tells us that by that only quite a superficial, purely formal definition is given, whilst nearly all who use the word democracy to-day understand by it more than a mere form of government. We shall come much nearer to the definition if we express ourselves negatively, and define democracy as an absence of class government, as the indication of a social condition where a political privilege belongs to no one class as opposed to the whole community. By that the explanation is already given as to why a monopolist corporation is in principle anti-democratic. This negative definition has, besides, the advantage that it gives less room than the phrase “government by the people” to the idea of the oppression of the individual by the majority which is absolutely repugnant to the modern mind. To-day we find the oppression of the minority by the majority “ undemocratic,” although it was originally held to be quite consistent with government by the people. [21] The idea of democracy includes, in the conception of the present day, a notion of justice – an equality of rights for all members of the community, and in that principle the rule of the majority, to which in every concrete case the rule of the people extends, finds its limits. The more it is adopted and governs the general consciousness, the more will democracy be equal in meaning to the highest possible degree of freedom for all.

Democracy is in principle the suppression of class government, though it is not yet the actual suppression of classes. They speak of the conservative character of the democracy, and to a certain degree rightly. Absolutism, or semi-absolutism, deceives its supporters as well as its opponents as to the extent of their power. Therefore in countries where it obtains, or where its traditions still exist, we have flitting plans, exaggerated language, zigzag politics, fear of revolution, hope in oppression. In a democracy the parties, and the classes standing behind them, soon learn to know the limits of their power, and to undertake each time only as much as they can reasonably hope to carry through under the existing circumstances. Even if they make their demands rather higher than they seriously mean in order to give way in the unavoidable compromise – and democracy is the high school of compromise – they must still be moderate. The right to vote in a democracy makes its members virtually partners in the community, and this virtual partnership must in the end lead to real partnership. With a working class undeveloped in numbers and culture the general right to vote may long appear as the right to choose “the butcher”; with the growing number and knowledge of the workers it is changed, however, into the implement by which to transform the representatives of the people from masters into real servants of the people.

Universal suffrage in Germany could serve Bismarck temporarily as a tool, but finally it compelled Bismarck to serve it as a tool. It could be of use for a time to the squires of the East Elbe district, but it has long been the terror of these same squires. In 1878 it could bring Bismarck into a position to forge the weapon of socialistic law, but through it this weapon became blunt and broken, until by the help of it Bismarck was thoroughly beaten. Had Bismarck in 1878, with his then majority, created a politically exceptional law, instead of a police one, a law which would have placed the worker outside the franchise, he would for a time have hit social democracy more sharply than with the former. It is true, he would then have hit other people also. Universal franchise is, from two sides, the alternative to a violent revolution. But universal suffrage is only a part of democracy, although a part which in time must draw the other parts after it as the magnet attracts to itself the scattered portions of iron. It certainly proceeds more slowly than many would wish, but in spite of that it is at work. And social democracy cannot further this work better than by taking its stand unreservedly on the theory of democracy – on the ground of universal suffrage with all the consequences resulting therefrom to its tactics.

In practice – that is, in its actions – it has in Germany always done so. But in their explanations its literary advocates have often acted otherwise, and still often do so to-day. Phrases which were composed in a time when the political privilege of property ruled all over Europe, and which under these circumstances were explanatory, and to a certain degree also justified, but which to-day are only a dead weight, are treated with such reverence as though the progress of the movement depended on them and not on the understanding of what can be done, and what should be done. Is there any sense, for examples in maintaining the phrase of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” at a time when in all possible places representatives of social democracy have placed themselves practically in the arena of Parliamentary work, have declared for the proportional representation of the people, and for direct legislation – all of which is inconsistent with a dictatorship.

The phrase is to-day so antiquated that it is only to be reconciled with reality by stripping the word dictatorship of its actual meaning and attaching to it some kind of weakened interpretation. The whole practical activity of social democracy is directed towards creating circumstances and conditions which shall render possible and secure a transition (free from convulsive outbursts) of the modern social order into a higher one. From the consciousness of being the pioneers of a higher civilisation, its adherents are ever creating fresh inspiration and zeal. In this rests also, finally, the moral justification of the socialist expropriation towards which they aspire. But the “dictatorship of the classes” belongs to a lower civilisation, and apart from the question of the expediency and practicability of the thing, it is only to be looked upon as a reversion, as political atavism. If the thought is aroused that the transition from a capitalist to a socialist society must necessarily be accomplished by means of the development of forms of an age which did not know at all, or only in quite an imperfect form, the present methods of the initiating and carrying of laws, and which was without the organs fit for the purpose, reaction will set in.

I say expressly transition from a capitalist to a socialist society, and not from a “civic society,” as is so frequently the expression used to-day. This application of the word “civic” is also much more an atavism, or in any case an ambiguous way of speaking, which must be considered an inconvenience in the phraseology of German social democracy, and which forms an excellent bridge for mistakes with friend and foe. The fault lies partly in the German language, which has no special word for the idea of the citizen with equal civic rights separate from the idea of privileged citizens.

What is the struggle against, or the abolition of, a civic society? What does it mean specially in Germany, in whose greatest and leading state, Prussia, we are still constantly concerned with first getting rid of a great part of feudalism which stands in the path of civic development? No man thinks of destroying civic society as a civilised ordered system of society. On the contrary, social democracy does not wish to break up this society and make all its members proletarians together; it labours rather incessantly at raising the worker from the social position of a proletarian to that of a citizen, and thus to make citizenship universal. It does not want to set up a proletarian society instead of a civic society, but a socialist order of society instead of a capitalist one. It would be well if one, instead of availing himself of the former ambiguous expression, kept to the latter quite clear declaration. Then one would be quite free of a good portion of other contradictions which opponents, not quite without reason, assert do exist between the phraseology and the practice of social democracy. A few socialist newspapers find a pleasure to-day in forced anti-civic language, which at the most would be in place if we lived in a sectarian fashion as anchorites, but which is absurd in an age which declares it to be no offence to the socialist sentiment to order one’s private life throughout in a “bourgeois fashion.” [22]

Finally, it is to be recommended that some moderation should be kept in the declaration of war against “liberalism.” It is true that the great liberal movement of modern times arose for the advantage of the capitalist bourgeoisie first of all, and the parties which assumed the names of liberals were, or became in due course, simple guardians of capitalism. Naturally, only opposition can reign between these parties and social democracy. But with respect to liberalism as a great historical movement, socialism is its legitimate heir, not only in chronological sequence, but also in its spiritual qualities, as is shown moreover in every question of principle in which social democracy has had to take up an attitude.

Wherever an economic advance of the socialist programme had to be carried out in a manner, or under circumstances, that appeared seriously to imperil the development of freedom, social democracy has never shunned taking up a position against it. The security of civil freedom has always seemed to it to stand higher than the fulfilment of some economic progress.

The aim of all socialist measures, even of those which appear outwardly as coercive measures, is the development and the securing of a free personality. Their more exact examination always shows that the coercion included will raise the sum total of liberty in society, and will give more freedom over a more extended area than it takes away. The legal day of a maximum number of hours’ work, for example, is actually a fixing of a minimum of freedom, a prohibition to sell freedom longer than for a certain number of hours daily, and, in principle, therefore, stands on the same ground as the prohibition agreed to by all liberals against selling oneself into personal slavery. It is thus no accident that the first country where a maximum hours’ day was carried out was Switzerland, the most democratically progressive country in Europe, and democracy is only the political form of liberalism. Being in its origin a counter-movement to the oppression of nations under institutions imposed from without or having a justification only in tradition, liberalism first sought its realisation as the principle of the sovereignty of the age and of the people, both of which principles formed the everlasting discussion of the philosophers of the rights of the state in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, until Rousseau set them up in his Contrat Social as the fundamental conditions of the legitimacy of every constitution, and the French Revolution proclaimed them – in the Democratic Constitution of 1793 permeated with Rousseau’s spirit [23] – as inalienable rights of men.

The Constitution of 1793 was the logical expression of the liberal ideas of the epoch, and a cursory glance over its contents shows how little it was, or is, an obstacle to socialism. Baboeuf, and the believers in absolute equality, saw in it an excellent starting point for the realisation of their communistic strivings, and accordingly wrote “The Restoration of the Constitution of 1793” at the head of their demands.

There is actually no really liberal thought which does not also belong to the elements of the ideas of socialism. Even the principle of economic personal responsibility which belongs apparently so entirely to the Manchester School cannot, in my judgment, be denied in theory by socialism nor be made inoperative under any conceivable circumstances. Without responsibility there is no freedom; we may think as we like theoretically, about man’s freedom of action, we must practically start from it as the foundation of the moral law, for only under this condition is social morality possible. And similarly, in our states which reckon with millions, a healthy social life is, in the age of traffic, impossible if the economic personal responsibility of all those capable of work is not assumed. The recognition of individual responsibility is the return of the individual to society for services rendered or offered him by society.

Perhaps I may be allowed to quote some passages from my article on The Social-Political Meaning of Space and Numbers.

“Changes in the economic personal responsibility of those capable of work can, then, as far as we can see, only be made relatively. Labour statistics can be developed very much more, the exchange or adjustment of labour be very much perfected, the change of work be made easier and a right of the workers developed which renders possible an infinitely greater security of existence and facility for the choice of a calling than are given to-day. The most advanced organs of economic self help – the great trade unions – already point out in this respect the way which evolution will presumably take .... If already strong trade unions secure to those of their members fit to work a certain right of occupation, when they impress the employers that it is very inadvisable to dismiss a member of the union without very valid reasons recognised also by the union, if they in giving information to members seeking occupation supply their wants in order of application, there is in all this an indication of the development of a democratic right to work.” [24] Other beginnings of it are found to-day in the form of industrial courts, trades councils, and similar creations in which democratic self-government has taken shape, though still often imperfectly. On the other side, doubtless, the extension of the public services, particularly of the system of education and of reciprocal arrangements (insurances, etc.) helps very much towards divesting economic personal responsibility of its hardness. But a right to work, in the sense that the state guarantees to everyone occupation in his calling, is quite improbable in a visible time, and also not even desirable. What its pleaders want can only be attained with advantage to the community in the way described by the combination of various organs, and likewise the common duty to work can only be realised in this way without a deadening bureaucracy. In such great and complicated organisms as our modern civilised states and their industrial centres an absolute right to work would simply result in disorganisation; it is “only conceivable as a source of the most odious arbitrariness and everlasting quarrelling.” [25]

Liberalism had historically the task of breaking the chains which the fettered economy and the corresponding organisations of law of the middle ages had imposed on the further development of society. That it at first strictly maintained the form of bourgeois liberalism did not stop it from actually expressing a very much wider-reaching general principle of society whose completion will be socialism.

Socialism will create no new bondage of any kind whatever. The individual is to be free, not in the metaphysical sense, as the anarchists dreamed – i.e., free from all duties towards the community – but free from every economic compulsion in his action and choice of a calling. Such freedom is only possible for all by means of organisation. In this sense one might call socialism “organising liberalism,” for when one examines more closely the organisations that socialism wants and how it wants them, he will find that what distinguishes them above all from the feudalistic organisations, outwardly like them, is just their liberalism, their democratic constitution, their accessibility. Therefore the trade union, striving after an arrangement similar to a guild, is, in the eyes of the socialist, the product of self-defence against the tendency of capitalism to overstock the labour market; but, at the same time, just on account of its tendency towards a guild, and to the degree in which that obtains, is it an unsocialistic corporate body.

The work here indicated is no very simple problem; it rather conceals within itself a whole series of dangers. Political equality alone has never hitherto sufficed to secure the healthy development of communities whose centre of gravity was in the giant towns. It is, as France and the United States show, no unfailing remedy against the rank growth of all kinds of social parasitism and corruption. If solidity did not reach so far down in the constitution of the French nation, and if the country were not so well favoured geographically, France would have long since been ruined by the land plague of the official class which has gained a footing there. In any case this plague forms one of the causes why, in spite of the great keenness of the French mind, the industrial development of France remains more backward than that of the neighbouring countries. If democracy is not to excel centralised absolutism in the breeding of bureaucracies, it must be built up on an elaborately organised self-government with a corresponding economic, personal responsibility of all the units of administration as well as of the adult citizens of the state. Nothing is more injurious to its healthy development than enforced uniformity and a too abundant amount of protectionism or subventionism.

To create the organisations described – or, so far as they are already begun, to develop them further – is the indispensable preliminary to what we call socialism of production. Without them the so-called social appropriation of the means of production would only result presumably in reckless devastation of productive forces, insane experimentalising and aimless violence, and the political sovereignty of the working class would, in fact, only be carried out in the form of a dictatorial, revolutionary, central power, supported by the terrorist dictatorship of revolutionary clubs. As such it hovered before the Blanquists, and as such it is still represented in the Communist Manifesto and in the publications for which its authors were responsible at that time. But “in presence of the practical experiences of the February revolution and much more of those of the Paris Commune when the proletariat retained political power for two months,” the revolutionary programme given in the Manifesto has “here and there become out of date”. “The Commune notably offers a proof that the working class cannot simply take possession of the state machinery and set it in motion for their own ends.”

So wrote Marx and Engels in 1872 in the preface to the new edition of the Manifesto. And they refer to the work, The Civil War in France, where this is developed more fully. But if we open the work in question and read the part referred to (it is the third), we find a programme developed which, according to its political contents, shows in all material features the greatest similarity to the federalism of Proudhon.

“The unity of the nation was not to be broken, but on the contrary it was to be organised by the destruction of that power of the state which pretended to be the personification of that unity but wanted to be independent of, and superior to, the nation on whose body it was after all only a parasitic growth. Whilst they were occupied in cutting off the merely oppressive organs of the old governing power its rightful functions as a power which claimed to stand above the community were to be taken away and given over to the responsible servants of the community. Instead of deciding once in three or six years what member of the ruling class should trample on and crush the people in Parliament, universal suffrage should serve the people constituted in communities, as individual suffrage serves every other employer to select for his business workers, inspectors, and clerks.

“The antagonism between the commune and the power of the state has been looked on as an exaggerated form of the old fight against over-centralisation ... The constitution of the commune, on the contrary, would have restored to the community all the powers which until now the parasitic growth, the state, which lives on the community and hinders its free action, has absorbed.”

Thus Marx wrote in the Civil War in France.

Let us now listen to Proudhon. As I have not his work on Federalism at hand, a few sentences may follow here from his essay on the Political Capacity of the Working Classes in which he incidentally preaches the forming of the workers into a party of their own.

“In a democracy organised according to the true ideas of the sovereignty of the people, i.e., according to the fundamental principles of the right of representation, every oppressive and corrupting action of the central authority on the nation is rendered impossible. The mere supposition of such a thing is absurd.

“And why?

“Because in a truly free democracy the central authority is not separated from the assembly of delegates, the natural organs of local interests called together for agreement. Because every deputy is, first of all, the man of the locality which named him its representative, its emissary, one of its fellow-citizens, its special agent to defend its special interests, or to bring them as much as possible into union with the interests of the whole community before the great jury (the nation); because the combined delegates, if they choose from their midst a central executive committee of management, do not separate it from themselves or make it their commander who can carry on a conflict with them.”

“There is no middle course; the commune must be sovereign or only a branch [of the state] – everything or nothing. Give it, however pleasant a part to play, from the moment when it does not create its rights out of itself, when it must recognise a higher law, when the great group to which it belongs is declared to be superior to it and is not the expression of its federated relations, they will unavoidably find themselves one day in opposition to each other and war will break out.” But then logic and power will be on the side of the central authority. “The idea of a limitation of the power of the state by means of groups, when the principle of subordination and centralisation rules in regard to these groups themselves, is inconsistent, not to say contradictory.” It is the municipal principle of bourgeois liberalism. A “federated France” on the other hand, “a regime which represents the ideal of independence and whose first act would consist in restoring to the municipalities their full independence and to the Provinces their self-government” – that is the municipal freedom which the working class must write on its flag. [26] And if in the Civil War we find that “the political sovereignty of the producers cannot exist with the perpetuation of their social slavery,” we read in the Capacité Politique: “When political equality is once given by means of universal suffrage, the tendency of the nation will be towards economic equality. That is just how the workmen’s candidates understood the thing. But this is what their bourgeois rivals did not want. [27] In short, with all the other differences between Marx and the “petit bourgeois”, Proudhon, on this point, their way of thinking is as nearly as possible the same.

There is not the least doubt (and it has since then been proved many times practically) that the general development of modern society is along the line of a constant increase of the duties of municipalities and the extension of municipal freedom, that the municipality will be an ever more important lever of social emancipation. It appears to one doubtful if it was necessary for the first work of democracy to be such a dissolution of the modern state system and complete transformation of its organisation as Marx and Proudhon pictured (the formation of the national assembly out of delegates from provincial or district assemblies, which in their turn were composed of delegates from municipalities) so that the form the national assemblies had hitherto taken had to be abolished. Evolution has given life to too many institutions and bodies corporate, whose sphere has outgrown the control of municipalities and even of provinces and districts for it to be able to do without the control of the central governments unless or before their organisation is transformed. The absolute sovereignty of the municipality, etc., is besides no ideal for me. The parish or commune is a component part of the nation, and hence has duties towards it and rights in it. We can as little grant the district, for example, an unconditional and exclusive right to the soil as we can to the individual. Valuable royalties, rights of forest and river, etc., belong, in the last instance, not to the parishes or the districts, which indeed only are their usufructuaries, but to the nation. Hence an assembly in which the national, and not the provincial or local, interest stands in the forefront or is the first duty of the representatives, appears to be indispensable, especially in an epoch of transition. But beside it, those other assemblies and representative bodies will attain an ever greater importance, so that Revolution or not, the functions of the central assemblies become constantly narrowed, and therewith the danger of these assemblies or authorities to the democracy is also narrowed. It is already very little in advanced countries to-day.

But we are less concerned here with a criticism of separate items in the quoted programme than with bringing into prominence the energy with which it emphasises autonomy the preliminary condition of social emancipation, and with showing how the democratic organisation from the bottom upwards is depicted as the way to the realisation of socialism, and how the antagonists Proudhon and Marx meet again in – liberalism.

The future municipalities itself will reveal how far the and other self-governing bodies will discharge their duties under a complete democracy, and how far they will make use of these duties. But so much is clear: the more suddenly they come in possession of their freedom, the more experiments they will make in number and in violence and therefore be liable to greater mistakes, and the more experience the working class democracy has had in the school of self-government, the more cautiously and practically will it proceed.

Simple as democracy appears to be at the first glance, its problems in such a complicated society as ours are in no way easy to solve. Read only in the volumes of Industrial Democracy by Mr. and Mrs. Webb how many experiments the English trade unions had to make and are still making in order to find out the most serviceable forms of government and administration, and of what importance this question of constitution is to trade unions. The English trade unions have been able to develop in this respect for over seventy years in perfect freedom. They began with the most elementary form of self-government and have been forced to convince themselves that this form is only suited to the most elementary organisms, for quite small, local unions. As they grew they gradually learned to renounce as injurious to their successful development certain cherished ideas of doctrinaire democracy (the imperative mandate, the unpaid official, the powerless central representation), and to form instead of it a democracy capable of governing with representative assemblies, paid officials, and central government with full powers. This section of the history of the development of “trade union democracy” is extremely instructive. If all that concerns trade unions does not quite fit the units of national administration, yet much of it does. The chapter referred to in Industrial Democracy belongs to the theory of democratic government. In the history of the development of trade unions is shown how the executive central management – their state government – can arise simply from division of labour which becomes necessary through the extension in area of the society and through the number of its members. It is possible that with the socialist development of society this centralisation may also later on become superfluous. But for the present it cannot be dispensed with in democracy. As was demonstrated at the end of the first division of this chapter it is an impossibility for the municipalities of great towns or industrial centres to take over under their own management all local productive and commercial undertakings. It is also, on practical grounds, improbable – not to mention grounds of equity which are against it – that they should “expropriate” those undertakings each and all offhand in a revolutionary upheaval. But even if they did (whereby in the majority of cases would only empty husks come into their hands) they would be obliged to lease the mass of the businesses to associations, whether individual or trade union, for associated management. [28]

In every one of these cases, as also in the municipal and national undertakings, certain interests of the different trades would have to be protected, and so there would always remain a need for active supervision on the part of trade unions. In the transition period particularly, the multiplicity of organs will be of great value.

Meantime we are not yet so far on, and it is not my intention to unfold pictures of the future. I am not concerned with what will happen in the more distant future, but with what can and ought to happen in the present, for the present and the nearest future. And so the conclusion of this exposition is the very banal statement that the conquest of the democracy, the formation of political and social organs of the democracy, is the indispensable preliminary condition to the realisation of socialism.

Feudalism, with its unbending organisations and corporations, had to be destroyed nearly everywhere by violence. The liberal organisations of modern society are distinguished from those exactly because they are flexible, and capable of change and development. They do not need to be destroyed, but only to be further developed. For that we need organisation and energetic action, but not necessarily a revolutionary dictatorship. “As the object of the class war is especially to destroy distinctions of class,” wrote some time since (October, 1897) a social democratic Swiss organ, the Vorwärts of Basle, “a period must logically be agreed upon in which the realisation of this object, of this ideal, must be begun. This beginning, these periods following on one another, are already founded in our democratic development; they come to our help, to serve gradually as a substitute for the class war, to absorb it into themselves by the building up of the social democracy.” “The bourgeoisie, of whatever shade of opinion it may be,” declared lately the Spanish socialist, Pablo Iglesias, “must be convinced of this, that we do not wish to take possession of the Government by the same means that were once employed, by violence and bloodshed, but by lawful means which are suited to civilisation” (Vorwärts, October 16th, 1898). From a similar point of view the Labour Leader, the leading organ of the English Independent Labour Party, agreed unreservedly with the remarks of Vollmar on the Paris Commune. But no one will accuse this paper of timidity in fighting capitalism and the capitalist parties. And another organ of the English socialist working class democracy the Clarion, accompanied an extract from my article on the theory of catastrophic evolution with the following commentary:

“The formation of a true democracy – I am quite convinced that that is the most pressing and most important duty which lies before us. This is the lesson which the socialist campaign of the last ten years has taught us. That is the doctrine which emerges out of all my knowledge and experiences of politics. We must build up a nation of democrats before socialism is possible.”





20. Amongst others Carey relies on this partial truth in his Doctrine of Harmony. Certain extractive industries – mines, etc. – afford examples of it.

21. The consistent advocates of Blanquism also always conceived of democracy as at first an oppressive force. Thus Hippolyt Castille publishes a preliminary introduction to his History of the Second Republic which culminates in a veritable glorification of the Reign of Terror. “The most perfect community,” he says, “would be where tyranny was an affair of the whole community. That proves fundamentally that the most perfect society would be one where there is least freedom in the satanic (i.e., individualistic) meaning of this word ... What is called political freedom is only a beautiful name to adorn the justifiable tyranny of the many. Political freedom is only the sacrifice of the freedom of a number of individuals to the despotic God of human societies, to social reason, to the social contract.” “From this epoch (the time from October, 1793, to April, 1794, when Girondists, Hebertists, Dantonists, were beheaded one after the other) dates in truth the re-incarnation of the principle of authority, of this eternal defensive warfare of human societies. Freed from the moderates and the ultras, secured against every conflict of authority, the committee of public safety acquires the form of government necessitated by the given circumstances, the necessary force arid unity to maintain its position and to protect France from a threatening anarchy ... No, it is not the government that killed the first French Republic, but the Parliamentarians, the traitors of Thermidor. The anarchist and liberal republicans whose swarming hordes covered France, continue in vain the old calumny. Robespierre remains a remarkable man, not on account of his talents and virtues, which are here incidental, but on account of his genius for authority, on account of his strong political instinct.”

This worship of Robespierre was not to outlast the second Empire. To the younger generation of the Blanquist socialist revolutionaries who stepped on the stage in the middle of the ‘sixties and who were above all anti-clerical, Robespierre was too philistine on account of his Deism. They swore by Hebert and Anacharsis Cloots. But for the rest they reasoned like Castille – i.e. they carried out to extremes, like him, the just idea of the subordination of individual interests to the general interests of the community.

22. In this point Lassalle was much more logical than we are to-day, granted that it was one-sidedness to derive the idea of the bourgeois simply from political privilege instead of at least from his economic position of power also. But for the rest he was sufficient realist to blunt beforehand the point of the above contradiction when he declared in the Workers’ Programme: “In the German language the word ‘bourgeoisie’ had to be translated by ‘Bürgerthum’ (citizendom). But it has not this meaning with me. We are all citizens (‘Bürger’) – the workman, the poor citizen, the rich citizen, and so forth. In the course of history the word ‘bourgeoisie’ has rather acquired a meaning by which to denote a well defined, political line of thought” (Collected Works, II, p.27). What Lassalle further says there of the distorted logic of Sansculottism is especially to be recommended to writers in the belles lettres style who study the middle class “naturalistically” in the café and then judge the whole class according to their dried fruits, as the philistine thinks he sees the type of the modern workman in his fellow tippler. I feel no hesitation in declaring that I consider the middle class – not excepting the German – in their bulk to be still fairly healthy, not only economically, but also morally.

23. Sovereignty “rests with the people. It is indivisible, imprescriptible, inalienable.” (Article 25). “A people has at any time the right to revise, reform and alter its constitution. No generation can bind the next to its laws.” (Article 28).

24. Neue Zeit XV. 2, p.141.

25. Ibid.

26. Capacité Politique des Classes Ouvrières, pp. 224, 225, 231, 235.

27. Ibid. p.214

28. This would certainly bring about complicated problems. Think of the many joint undertakings of modern times which employ members of all possible trades.


Last updated on 16.3.2003