MARXIST INTERNET ARCHIVE |  Marx Engels

Works of Frederick Engels 1891

A Critique of the Draft Social-Democratic Program of 1891


Source: MECW Volume 27, p. 217;
Written: June 18 and 29 1891;
First Published: without Appendix, 1901-02 and in full in Marx and Engels, Works, Moscow 1936;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden.


The present draft differs very favourably from the former programme [at Gotha].The strong survivals of outmoded traditions — both the specific Lassallean and vulgar socialistic — have in the main been removed, and as regards its theoretical aspect the draft is, on the whole, based on present-day science and can be discussed on this basis.

It is divided into three sections: I. The Preamble, II. Political Demands, III. Demands for Measures of Protection for the Workers.

I. Preamble in Ten Paragraphs

In general it suffers from the attempt to combine two things that are uncombinable: a programme and a commentary on the programme as well. The fear that a short, pointed exposition would not be intelligible enough, has caused explanations to be added, which make it verbose and drawn out. To my view the programme should be as short and precise as possible. No harm is done even if it contains the occasional foreign word, or a sentence whose full significance cannot be understood at first sight. Verbal exposition at meetings and written commentaries in the press take care of all that, and the short, precise phrase, once understood, takes root in the memory, and becomes a slogan, a thing that never happens with verbose explanations. Too much should not be sacrificed for the sake of popularity, and the mental ability and educational level of our workers should not be underestimated. They have understood much more difficult things than the shortest, most concise programme can offer them; and if the period of the Anti-Socialist Law has made more difficult, and here and there even prevented the spreading of comprehensive knowledge among the masses joining the movement, now that our propagandist literature can again be kept and read without risking trouble, lost time will soon be made up for under the old leadership.

I shall try to make this entire section somewhat shorter and if I succeed shall enclose it or send it on later. Now, I shall deal with the individual paragraphs numbered from 1 to 10.

Paragraph 1. “The separation,” etc., “mines, pits, quarries” — three words for the same thing; two should be deleted. I would leave mines (Bergwerke), which is a word used even in the most level parts of the country, and I would designate them all by this widely used term. I would, however, add “railways and other means of communication”.

Paragraph 2. Here I would insert: “In the hands of their appropriators (or their owners) the social means of labour are” and likewise below “dependence ... on the owners (or appropriators) of the means of labour”, etc.

It has already been said in para. I that these gentlemen have appropriated these things as “exclusive possession” and will simply need to be repeated here if one absolutely insists on introducing the word “monopolises”. Neither this nor the other word adds anything to the sense. And anything redundant in a programme weakens it.

“The means of labour necessary for the existence of society”

— these are precisely those that are at hand. Before the steam engine it was possible to do without it, now we couldn’t. Since all the means of labour are nowadays directly or indirectly — either by their design or because of the social division of labour — social means of labour, these words express what is available at every given moment sufficiently clearly, correctly and without any misleading associations.

If this conclusion is intended to correspond with the preamble of the Rules of the International, I should prefer it to correspond completely: “to social misery” (this is No. 1), “mental degradation and political dependence” [General Rules of the International Working Men’s Association]. Physical degradation is part of social misery and political dependence is a fact, while the denial of political rights is a declamatory phrase which is only relatively true and for this reason does not belong in the programme.

Paragraph 3. In my opinion the first sentence should be changed.

“Under the domination of the individual owners.”

First of all that which follows is an economic fact, which should be explained in economic terms. The expression “domination of the individual owners” creates the false impression that this has been caused by the political domination of that gang of robbers. Secondly, these individual owners include not only “capitalists and big landowners” (what does the “bourgeoisie” following here signify? Are they a third class of individual owners? Are the big landowners also “bourgeois"? And, once we have turned to the subject of big landowners, should we ignore the colossal survivals of feudalism, which give the whole filthy business of German politics its specific reactionary character?). Peasants and petty bourgeois too are “individual owners”, at least they still are today; but they do not appear anywhere in the programme and therefore the wording should make it clear that they are not included in the category of individual owners under discussion.

“The accumulation of the means of labour and of the wealth that has been created by the exploited.”

The “wealth” consists of 1. means of labour, 2. means of subsistence. It is therefore grammatically incorrect and illogical to mention one part of the wealth without the other and then refer to the total wealth, linking the two by and.

“...increases ... in the hands of the capitalists with growing speed”.

What has happened to the “big landowners” and the “bourgeoisie” mentioned above? If it is enough to speak only of capitalists here, it should be so above as well. If one wishes to specify, however, it is generally not enough to mention them alone.

“The number and the misery of the proletariat increase continuously.”

This is incorrect when put in such a categorical way. The organisation of the workers and their constantly growing resistance will possibly check the increase of misery to a certain extent. However, what certainly does increase is the insecurity of existence. I should insert this.

Paragraph 4.

“The planlessness rooted in the nature of capitalist private production”

needs considerable improvement. I am familiar with capitalist production as a social form, or an economic phase; capitalist private production being a phenomenon which in one form or another is encountered in that phase. What is capitalist private production? Production by separate entrepreneurs, which is increasingly becoming an exception. Capitalist production by joint-stock companies is no longer private production but production on behalf of many associated people. And when we pass on from joint-stock companies to trusts, which dominate and monopolise whole branches of industry, this puts an end not only to private production but also to planlessness. If the word “private” were deleted the sentence could pass.

“The ruin of broad layers of the population.”

Instead of this declamatory phrase, which looks as though we still regret the ruin of the bourgeois and petty bourgeois, I should state the simple fact: “which by the ruin of the urban and rural middle classes, the petty bourgeois and small peasants, widen (or deepen) the chasm between the haves and have-nots”.

The last two phrases repeat the same thing. In the Appendix to Section 1, I give a draft amendment.

Paragraph 5. Instead of “the causes” this should read “its causes”, which is probably due to a slip of the pen.

Paragraph 6. “Mines, pits, quarries,” see above, para. 1. “Private production,” see above. I would say: “The transformation of present capitalist production on behalf of individuals or joint-stock companies into socialist production on behalf of society as a whole and according to a preconceived plan, a transformation, etc. ... which creates... and by which alone can be achieved the emancipation of the working class and with it the emancipation of all members of society without exception.”

Paragraph 7. I would say as in the Appendix to Section I.

Paragraph 8. Instead of “class-conscious”, which in our circles is an easily understood abbreviation, I would say the following to facilitate universal understanding and translation into foreign languages: “with workers conscious of their class position”, or something like it.

Paragraph 9. Closing sentence: “... places... and thereby concentrates in the same hands the power of economic exploitation and political oppression”.

Paragraph 10. After “class rule” the words “and the classes themselves” should be inserted. The abolition of classes is our basic demand, without which the abolition of class rule is economically inconceivable. Instead of “for equal rights for all”, I suggest: “for equal rights and equal duties of all”, etc. Equal duties are for us a particularly important addition to the bourgeois-democratic equal rights and do away with their specifically bourgeois meaning.

The closing sentence: “In their struggle ... are capable,” would be better deleted. The imprecise wording “which are capable ... of improving the position of the people in general” (who is that?), can be taken to embrace everything, protective tariffs and free trade, guilds and freedom of enterprise, loans on landed security, exchange banks, compulsory vaccination and prohibition of vaccination, alcoholism and prohibition, etc., etc. What should be said here, has already been said earlier, and it is unnecessary to mention specifically that the demand for the whole includes every separate part, for this, to my mind, weakens the impact. If, however, this sentence is intended as a link to pass on to the individual demands, something resembling the following could be said: “Social Democracy fights for all demands which help it approach this goal” (“measures and arrangements” to be deleted as repetitious). Or else, which would be even better: to say directly what it is all about, i.e., that it is necessary to catch up with what the bourgeoisie has missed; I have included a closing sentence to this effect in Appendix I. I consider this important in connection with my notes to the next section and to motivate the proposals put forward by me therein.

II. Political Demands

The political demands of the draft have one great fault. It lacks precisely what should have been said. If all the 10 demands were granted we should indeed have more diverse means of achieving our main political aim, but the aim itself would in no wise have been achieved. As regards the rights being granted to the people and their representatives, the imperial constitution is, strictly speaking, a copy of the Prussian constitution of 1850, a constitution whose articles are extremely reactionary and give the government all the real power, while the chambers are not even allowed to reject taxes; a constitution, which proved during the period of the conflict that the government could do anything it liked with it. The rights of the Reichstag are the same as those of the Prussian chamber and this is why Liebknecht called this Reichstag the fig-leaf of absolutism. It is an obvious absurdity to wish “to transform all the instruments of labour into common property” on the basis of this constitution and the system of small states sanctioned by it, on the basis of the “union” between Prussia and Reuss-Greiz-Schleiz-Lobenstein, in which one has as many square miles as the other has square inches.

To touch on that is dangerous, however. Nevertheless, somehow or other, the thing has to be attacked. How necessary this is is shown precisely at the present time by opportunism, which is gaining ground in a large section of the Social-Democratic press. Fearing a renewal of the Anti-Socialist Law, or recalling all manner of over-hasty pronouncements made during the reign of that law, they now want the party to find the present legal order in Germany adequate for putting through all party demands by peaceful means. These are attempts to convince oneself and the party that “present-day society is developing towards socialism” without asking oneself whether it does not thereby just as necessarily outgrow the old social order and whether it will not have to burst this old shell by force, as a crab breaks its shell, and also whether in Germany, in addition, it will not have to smash the fetters of the still semi-absolutist, and moreover indescribably confused political order. One can conceive that the old society may develop peacefully into the new one in countries where the representatives of the people concentrate all power in their hands, where, if one has the support of the majority of the people, one can do as one sees fit in a constitutional way: in democratic republics such as France and the U.S.A., in monarchies such as Britain, where the imminent abdication of the dynasty in return for financial compensation is discussed in the press daily and where this dynasty is powerless against the people. But in Germany where the government is almost omnipotent and the Reichstag and all other representative bodies have no real power, to advocate such a thing in Germany, when, moreover, there is no need to do so, means removing the fig-leaf from absolutism and becoming oneself a screen for its nakedness.

In the long run such a policy can only lead one’s own party astray. They push general, abstract political questions into the foreground, thereby concealing the immediate concrete questions, which at the moment of the first great events, the first political crisis automatically pose themselves. What can result from this except that at the decisive moment the party suddenly proves helpless and that uncertainty and discord on the most decisive issues reign in it because these issues have never been discussed? Must there be a repetition of what happened with protective tariffs, which were declared to be a matter of concern only to the bourgeoisie, not affecting the interests of the workers in the least, that is, a matter on which everyone could vote as he wished? Are not many people now going to the opposite extreme and are they not, in contrast to the bourgeoisie, who have become addicted to protective tariffs, rehashing the economic distortions of Cobden and Bright and preaching them as the purest socialism — the purest Manchesterism? This forgetting of the great, the principal considerations for the momentary interests of the day, this struggling and striving for the success of the moment regardless of later consequences, this sacrifice of the future of the movement for its present, may be “honestly” meant, but it is and remains opportunism, and “honest” opportunism is perhaps the most dangerous of all!

Which are these ticklish, but very significant points?

First. If one thing is certain it is that our party and the working class can only come to power under the form of a democratic republic. This is even the specific form for the dictatorship of the proletariat, as the Great French Revolution has already shown. It would be inconceivable for our best people to become ministers under an emperor, as Miquel. It would seem that from a legal point of view it is inadvisable to include the demand for a republic directly in the programme, although this was possible even under Louis Phillippe in France, and is now in Italy. But the fact that in Germany it is not permitted to advance even a republican party programme openly, proves how totally mistaken is the belief that a republic, and not only a republic, but also communist society, can be established in a cosy, peaceful way.

However, the question of the republic could possibly be passed by. What, however, in my opinion should and could be included is the demand for the concentration of all political power in the hands of the people’s representatives. That would suffice for the time being if it is impossible to go any further.

Second. The reconstitution of Germany. On the one hand, the system of small states must be abolished — just try to revolutionise society while there are the Bavarian-Württemberg reservation rights — and the map of present-day Thuringia, for example, is such a sorry sight. On the other hand, Prussia must cease to exist and must be broken up into self-governing provinces for the specific Prussianism to stop weighing on Germany. The system of small states and Prussianism are the two sides of the antithesis now gripping Germany in a vice, in which one side must always serve as the excuse and justification for the existence of the other.

What should take its place? In my view, the proletariat can only use the form of the one and indivisible republic. In the gigantic territory of the United States, the federal republic is still, on the whole, a necessity, although in the Eastern states it is already becoming a hindrance. It would be a step forward in Britain where the two islands are peopled by four nations and in spite of a single Parliament three different systems of legislation already exist side by side. In little Switzerland, it has long been a hindrance, tolerable only because Switzerland is content to be a purely passive member of the European state system. For Germany, federalisation on the Swiss model would be an enormous step backward. Two points distinguish a union state from a completely unified state: first, that each member state, each canton, has its own civil and criminal legislative and judicial system, and, second, that alongside a popular chamber there is also a federal chamber in which each canton, whether large or small, votes as such. The first we have luckily overcome and we shall not be so childish as to reintroduce it, the second we have in the Bundesrat and we could do very well without it, since our “federal state” generally constitutes a transition to a unified state. The revolution of 1866 and 1870 must not be reversed from above but supplemented and improved by a movement from below.

So, then, a unified republic. But not in the sense of the present French Republic, which is nothing but the Empire established in 1799’ without the Emperor. From 1792 to 1799 each French department, each commune, enjoyed complete self-government on the American model, and this is what we too must have. How self-government is to be organised and how we can manage without a bureaucracy has been shown to us by America and the First French Republic, and is being shown even today by Australia, Canada and the other English colonies. And a provincial and communal self-government of this type is far freer than, for instance, Swiss federalism, under which, it is true, the canton is very independent in relation to the federation, but is also independent in relation to the district and the commune. The cantonal governments appoint the district governors and prefects, which is unknown in English speaking countries and which we want to abolish here as resolutely in the future as the Prussian Landräte and Regicrungsräte.

Probably few of these points should be included in the programme. I mention them also mainly to describe the system in Germany where such matters cannot be discussed openly, and to emphasise the self-deception of those who wish to transform such a system in a legal way into communist society. Further, to remind the party executive that there are other important political questions besides direct legislation by the people and the gratuitous administration of justice without which we can also ultimately get by. In the generally unstable conditions these questions may become urgent at any time and what will happen then if they have not been discussed by us beforehand and no agreement has been reached on them?

However, what can be included in the programme and can, at least indirectly, serve as a hint of what may not be said directly is the following demand:

“Complete self-government in the provinces, districts and communes through officials elected by universal suffrage. The abolition of all local and provincial authorities appointed by the state.”

Whether or not it is possible to formulate other programme demands in connection with the points discussed above, I am less able to judge here than you can over there. But it would be desirable to debate these questions within the party before it is too late.

1. I fail to see the difference between “election rights and voting rights”, between “elections and voting” respectively. If such a distinction should be made, it should in any case be expressed more clearly or explained in a commentary appended to the draft.

2. “The right of the people to propose and reject” what? All laws or the decisions of the people’s representatives — this should be added.

5. Complete separation of the Church from the State. All religious communities without exception are to be treated by the state as private associations. They are to be deprived of any support from public funds and of all influence on public education. (They cannot be prohibited from forming their own schools out of their own funds and from teaching their own nonsense in them.)

6. In that case the point on the “secular character of the school” no longer arises, since it relates to the preceding paragraph.

8 and 9. Here I want to draw attention to the following: These points demand that the following should be taken over by the state: (1) the bar, (2) medical services, (3) pharmaceutics, dentistry, midwifery, nursing, etc., etc., and later the demand is advanced that workers’ insurance become a state concern. Can all this be entrusted to Mr. von Caprivi? And is it compatible with the rejection of all state socialism, as stated above?

10. Here I should say: “Progressive... tax to cover all expenditure of the state, district and community, insofar as taxes are required for it. Abolition of all indirect state and local taxes, duties, etc.” The rest is a redundant commentary or motivation that tends to weaken the effect.

III. Economic Demands

To item 2. Nowhere more so than in Germany does the right of association require guarantees also from the state.

The closing phrase: “for the regulation”, etc., should be added as item 4 and be given a corresponding form. In this connection it should be noted that we would be taken in good and proper by labour chambers made up half of workers and half of entrepreneurs. For years to come the entrepreneurs would always have a majority, for only a single black sheep among the workers would be needed to achieve this. If it is not agreed upon that in cases of conflict both halves express separate opinions, it would be much better to have a chamber of entrepreneurs and in addition an independent chamber of workers.

In conclusion I should like to request that the draft be compared once more with the French programme where some things seem better precisely for Section III. Being pressed for time, I unfortunately cannot search for the Spanish programme, which is also very good in many respects.

Appendix to Section I

1. “Pits, quarries” delete — “Railways and other means of communication.”

2. In the hands of their appropriators (or their owners) the social means of labour have become means of exploitation. The economic subjugation of the worker by the appropriator of the means of labour, that is to say, of the means of livelihood, conditioned thereby, is the basis of slavery in all its forms: social misery, mental degradation and political dependence.

3. Under this exploitation the wealth created by the exploited is concentrated in the hands of the exploiters — the capitalists and big landowners — with growing speed; the distribution of the product of labour between the exploiters and exploited becomes ever more uneven, and the numbers and insecurity of the proletariat grow ever greater, etc.

4. “Private” (production) delete ... deteriorate, by the ruin of the urban and rural middle classes, the petty bourgeois and small peasants, widen (or deepen) the chasm between the haves and have-nots, make general insecurity the normal state of society and prove that the class of the appropriators of the social means of labour has lost the vocation and ability for economic and political leadership.

5. “its” causes.

6. ... and the transformation of capitalist production on behalf of individuals or joint-stock companies into socialist production on behalf of society as a whole and according to a preconceived plan, a transformation, for which capitalist society itself creates the material and spiritual conditions, and by which alone can be achieved the emancipation of the working class and with it the emancipation of all members of society without exception.

7. The emancipation of the working class can be the work only of the working class itself. It is self-evident that the working class cannot leave its emancipation either to the capitalists and big landowners, its opponents and exploiters, or to the petty bourgeois and small peasants, who, being stifled by competition on the part of the big exploiters, have no choice but’ to join either their ranks or those of the workers.

8. ... with workers conscious of their class position, etc.

9. ... places ... and thereby concentrates in the same hands the power of economic exploitation and political oppression of the workers.

10. ... class rule and the classes themselves and for equal rights and equal duties of all without, etc. ... origin (delete end). In its struggle for ... mankind it is obstructed by Germany’s backward political state. First and foremost, it has to conquer room for movement, to abolish the massive survivals of feudalism and absolutism, in short, to do the work which the German bourgeois parties were and still are too cowardly to carry out. Hence it has, at least at present, to include also such demands in its programme, which in other cultural countries have already been implemented by the bourgeoisie.