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
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
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
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
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
(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
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
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