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Modern History Sourcebook:
German Social Democracy: The Erfurt Program, 1891

The German Social Democratic Party, founded in 1875, was a parliamentary partuy and advocated a moderate program of social and economic reform. It was nevertheless a Marxist-influenced party ["Social Democrat" was only replaced by "Communist" after World War I]. Although was an illegal party for many years, the party grew and became the mass party of the German working class.. In 1890, the new kaiser, William II, asked for Bismarck's resignation and dropped, the anti­socialist laws.

In 1891 the Social Democrats set forth their program at a congress at Erfurt.

The Erfurt Program (1891):
Programme of the Social Democratic Party of Germany

The struggle of the working class against capitalistic exploitation is of necessity a political struggle. The working class cannot carry on its economic contests, and cannot develop its economic organisation, without political rights. It cannot bring about the transference of the means of production into the possession of the community, without having obtained political power.

To give to this fight of the working class a conscious and unified form, and to show it its necessary goal-that is the task of the Social Democratic Party.

The interests of the working classes are the same in all countries with a capitalistic mode of production. With the extension of the world's commerce, and of production for the world­market, the position of the worker in every country grows ever more dependent on the position of the worker in other countries. The liberation of the working class, accordingly, is a work in which the workmen of all civilised countries are equally involved. In recognition of this, the Social Democratic Party of Germany feels and declares itself to be one with the class­conscious workmen of all other countries.

The Social Democratic Party of Germany does not fight, accordingly, for new class­privileges and class­rights, but for the abolition of classrule and of classes themselves, for equal rights and equal duties of all, without distinction of sex or descent. Starting from these views, it combats, within existing society, not only the exploitation and oppression of wage­earners, but every kind of exploitation and oppression, whether directed against a class, a party, a sex, or a race.

Proceeding from these principles, the Social Democratic Party of Germany demands, to begin with:

1. Universal, equal, and direct suffrage, with secret ballot, for all elections, of all citizens of the realm over twenty years of age, without distinction of sex. Proportional representation, and until this is introduced, legal redistribution of electoral districts after every census. Biennial legislative periods. Holding of the elections on a legal holiday. Compensation for the elected representatives. Abolition of every limitation of political rights, except in the case of legal incapacity.

2. Direct legislation through the people, by means of the rights of proposal and rejection. Self­determination and self­government of the people in realm, state, province and parish. Election of magistrates by the people, with responsibility to the people. Annual voting of taxes.

3. Education of all to bear arms. Militia in the place of the standing army. Decision by the popular representatives on questions of war and peace. Settlement of all international disputes by arbitration.

4. Abolition of all laws which limit or suppress the right of meeting and coalition.

5. Abolition of all laws which place women, whether in a public or a private capacity, at a disadvantage as compared with men.

6. Declaration that religion is a private affair. Abolition of all expenditure of public funds upon ecclesiastical and religious objects. Ecclesiastical and religious bodies are to be regarded as private associations, which regulate their affairs entirely independently.

7. Secularisation of schools. Compulsory attendance at the public national schools. Free education, free supply of educational materials, and free maintenance in the public schools, as well as in the higher educational institutions, for those boys and girls who, on account of their capacities, are considered fit for further education.

8. Free administration of justice, and free legal assistance. Adminis tration of the law through judges elected by the people. Appeal m criminal cases. Compensation of persons unjustly accused, imprisoned, or condemned. Abolition of capital punishment.

9. Free medical attendance, including midwifery, and free supply of medicines. Free burial.

10. Graduated income and property­tax for defraying all public expenses, so far as these are to be covered by taxation. Duty of selfassessment. Succession duties, graduated according to the amount of the inheritance and the degree of relationship. Abolition of all indirect taxes, customs, and other economic measures, which sacrifice the interests of the community to those of a privileged minority.

For the protection of the working classes, the Social Democratic Party of Germany demands to begin with:

1. An effective national and international legislation for the protectlon of labour on the following principles:-

(a) Fixing of a normal working day, which shall not exceed eight hours.

(b) Prohibition of the employment of children under fourteen.

(c) Prohibition of night­work, except in those industries which, by thelr nature, require night­work, from technical reasons, or for the public welfare.

(d) An unbroken rest of at least thirty­six hours in every week for every worker.

(e) Prohibition of the truck­system.

2 Supervision of all industrial establishments, investigation and regulatlon of conditions of labour in town and country by a central labour department, district labour bureaus, and chambers of labour

3. Legal equality of agricultural labourers and domestic servants with industrial workers; abolition of the laws concerning servants.

4. Confirmation of the right of coalition.

5. Taking over by the Imperial Government of the whole system of working people's insurance, though giving the working people a controlling share in the administration. *

From Bertrand Russell, German Social Democracy (London. Longmans, Green and Co., 1896), pp. 137­141.


This text is part of the Internet Modern History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use of the Sourcebook.

(c)Paul Halsall Aug 1997
halsall@murray.fordham.edu