Politics – Germany And Socialism

At Berlin I found, as I had at London and Paris, a considerable number of Americans and, as in the other cities, they have organized a society, the object of which is to bring the American residents together for friendly intercourse. At London the group is known as the American Society; at Paris and Berlin the society is known as the American Chamber of Commerce. Through the receptions given by these societies I was able to meet not only the leading American residents, but many foreigners who came as invited guests. Our American residents are evidently conducting themselves well, because I found that they are well liked by the people among whom they are temporarily sojourning. I am indebted to Ambassador Tower and to the American Chamber of Commerce for courtesies extended me at Berlin.

My visit to Germany occurred at Christmas time and while it was for that reason impossible to see the kaiser (much to my regret), I learned something of the German method of observing the great Christian holiday. The German is essentially a domestic man and at Christmas time especially gives himself up to the society of the family, relatives and friends. Christmas coming on Friday, the festivities covered three days, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The toys-in which Germany abounds —were of endless variety, and the Christmas trees, bending beneath their load, were centers of interest to the young folks. There were dolls and dogs, horses and woolly sheep, cows that give milk, and soldiers an abundance of soldiers. I saw one cavalry man with a saber in his hand. When he was wound up, the horse would rush forward and the rider would strike with his saber, as if he were keeping watch on the Rhine and in the very act of resisting an attack from the enemy. A little strange that the birthday of the Prince of Peace should be celebrated by the presentation of toys illustrating mimic warfare ! But, as in America we are increasing our army and enlarging our navy, we are not in a very good position to take the military mote out of the eye of our friends in the fatherland.

Berlin is a splendid city with beautiful streets, parks and public buildings. It is more modern in appearance than either London or Paris, and there is a solidity and substantialness about the population that explain the character of the emigration from Germany to America. No one can look upon a gathering of average Germans without recognizing that he is in the presence of a strong, intelligent and masterful people. Bismarck has left his impress upon Germany as Napoleon did upon France. An heroic statue of the man of “blood and iron” stands between the reichstag and the column of Victory, which was erected at the close of the Franco-Prussian war. The reichstag is a massive but graceful structure, built some twenty years ago. In one of the corridors I noticed a silk flag which was presented in the seventies by the German women of America. The reichstag proper is a popular body, much like the English parliament, and, as in England, the members do not necessarily reside in the districts they represent. The upper house or bundesrath, is somewhat like our senate in one respect, namely, that it represents the various states that comprise the German empire, but it differs from our senate, first, in that the subdivisions are represented somewhat in proportion to population, and, second, in that the members of the bundesrath are really ambassadors of the several state governments whose credentials can be withdrawn at any time. As all legislation must be concurred in by the bundesrath, as well as by the reichstag, it will be seen that the German government is not nearly so responsive to the will of the people as the governments of England, Denmark and the Netherlands.

In the reichstag they have resorted to a device for saving time in roll call. Each member is supplied with a quantity of tickets, some pink and some white. Each ticket bears on both sides the name of the member. On the white tickets the word “Ja” (yes) appears under the name, on the pink ones “Nein” (no). These ballots are gathered up in vases containing two receptacles, one white and the other pink. The vases are carried through the hall and the votes deposited according to color. As they are deposited in the different receptacles and are distinguished by color, the ballot is quickly taken and counted—in about one-fourth the time, I think, formerly required for roll call. This is a method which our congress might find it convenient to adopt.

It was my good fortune, while in Berlin, to meet Dr. Otto Arendt, the leading bimetallist of Germany. He became a student of the money question while in college, being converted to the double standard by the writings of Cernucshi, the great French economist. Dr. Arendt is a member of the reichstag, from one of the agricultural constituencies. He has represented his government in international conferences and has urged his government to join in an agreement to restore bimetallism, but, like other advocates of the double standard, has found the English financiers an immovable obstruction in the way.

I have for two reasons reserved for this article some comments on the growth of socialism in Europe. First, because Germany was to be the last of the larger countries visited, and, second, because socialism seems to be growing more rapidly in Germany than anywhere else. I find that nearly all the European nations have carried collective ownership farther than we have in the United States. In a former article, reference has already been made to the growth of municipal ownership in England and Scotland, and I may add that where the private ownership of public utilities is still permitted the regulation of the corporations holding these franchises is generally more strict than in the United States. Let two illustrations suffice : Where parliament charters gas and water companies in cities, it has for some years been the practice to limit the dividends that can be earned—any surplus earnings over and above the dividends allowed must be used in reducing the price paid by the consumer. I fear that our money magnates would be at a loss to find words to express their indignation if any such restriction were suggested in America, and yet is it not a just and reasonable restriction?

In the case of railroads, I noticed that there are in England but few grade (or, as they call them, “level”) crossings. I am informed that . railroad accidents and injuries are not so frequent in England as in the United States.

In Switzerland the government has recently acquired the principal railroad systems. In Holland, Belgium and Denmark also the railroads are largely government roads. In Russia the government owns and operates the roads and I found there a new form of collectivism, namely, the employment of a community physician, who treats the people with-out charge. These physicians are employed by societies called Zemstro, which have control of the roads and the care of the sick.

In Germany, however, socialism as an economic theory is being urged by a strong and growing party. In the last general election the socialists polled a little more than three million votes out of a total of about nine and a half millions. Measured by the popular vote it is now the strongest party in Germany. The fact that with thirty-one per cent of the vote it only has eighty-one members of the reichstag out of a total of 397 is due, in part, to the fact that the socialist vote is massed in the cities and, in part, to the fact that the population has increased more rapidly in the cities, and, as there has been no recent redistricting, the socialist city districts are larger than the districts returning members of other parties.

George von Vollmar, a member of the reichstag, in a recent issue of the National Review thus states the general purpose of the social democratic party in Germany:

“It is well known that social democracy in all countries, as its name indicates, aims in the first place at social and economic reform. It starts from the point of view that economic development, the substitution of machinery for hand implements, and the supplanting of small factories by gigantic industrial combinations, deprive the worker in an ever increasing degree of the essential means of production, thereby converting him into a possessionless proletarian, and that the means of production are becoming the exclusive possession of a comparatively small number of capitalists, who constantly monopolize all the advantages which the gigantic in-crease in the productive capacity of human effort has brought about. Thus, according to the social democrats, capital is mas-ter of all the springs of life, and lays a yoke on the working classes in particular, and the whole population in general, which ever becomes more and more unbearable. The masses, as their in-sight into the’ general trend of affairs develops, become daily more and more conscious of the contrast between the exploiter and the exploited, and in all countries with an industrial development society is divided into two hostile camps, which wage war on each other with ever increasing bitterness.

“To this class-war is due the origin and continuous development of social democracy, the chief task of which is to unite these factions in an harmonious whole which they will direct to its true goal. Industrial combination on a large scale can be converted from a source of misery and oppression into a source of the greatest prosperity and of harmonious perfection, when the means of production cease to be the exclusive appanage of capital and are transferred to the hands of society at large. The social revolution here indicated implies the liberation not only of the proletariat, but of mankind as a whole, which suffers from the de-composing influence of existing class antagonism whereby all social progress is crippled.”

One of the most influential of the German socialists, in answer to a series of questions submitted by me, said in substance :

First, the general aim of socialists in Germany is the same as the aim of other socialists throughout the world—namely, the establishment of a collective commonwealth based on democratic equality.

Second, the socialists of Germany have organized a liberal party of unrivaled strength; they have educated the working classes to a very high standard of political intelligence and to a strong sense of their independence and of their social mission, as the living and progressive force in every social respect; they have promoted the organization of trade unions; and have by their incessant agitation compelled the other parties and the government to take up social and labor legislation.

Third, German socialists at present are contending for a legal eight-hour day and for the creation of a labor department in the government, with labor officers and labor chambers throughout the country. In addition to these special reforms, socialists are urging various constitutional and democratic reforms in the states and municipalities—in the latter housing reforms, direct employment of labor, etc.

Fourth, there may be some difference of opinion among socialists in regard to the competitive system, but, being scientific evolutionists, they all agree that competition was at one time a great step in advance and acted for generations as a social lever of industrial progress, but they believe that it has many evil consequences and that it is now being out-grown by capitalistic concerns, whose power to oppress has become a real danger to the community. They contend that there is not much competition left with these monopolies and that as, on the other hand, education and the sense of civic responsibility are visibly growing, and will grow more rapidly when socialism gets hold of the public mind, socialists think that the time is approaching when all monopolies must and can safely be taken over by the state or municipality as the case may be. This would not destroy all competition at once—in industries not centralized some competition might continue to exist. In this respect, also, all socialists are evolutionists, however they may differ as to ways and means and political methods.

Fifth, as to the line between what are called natural monopolies and ordinary industries, the question is partly answered by the preceding paragraph. There is a general consensus of opinion, that natural monopolies should, in any case, be owned by the community.

I find that even in Germany there are degrees among socialists—some like Babel and Singer emphasizing the ultimate ends of socialism, while others led by Bernstein are what might be called progressionists or opportunists—that is, they are willing to take the best they can get to-day and from that vantage ground press on to something better. It is certain that the socialists of Germany are securing reforms, but so far they are reforms which have either already been secured in other countries or are advocated elsewhere by other parties as well as by the socialist party.

The whole question of socialism hangs upon the question : Is competition an evil or a good? If it is an evil, then monopolies are right and we have only to decide whether the monoplies should be owned by the state or by private individuals. If, on the other hand, competition is good, then it should be restored where it can be restored. In the case of natural monopolies, where it is impossible for competition to exist, the government would administer the monopolies, not on the ground that competition is undesirable, but on the ground that in such cases it is impossible.

Those who believe that the right is sure of ultimate -triumph will watch the struggle in Germany and profit by the lessons taught. I am inclined to believe that political considerations are so mingled with economic theories that it is difficult as yet to know just what proportion of the three million socialist voters believe in “the government ownership and operation of all the means of production and distribution.” The old age pension act was given as sop to the socialists, but it strengthened rather than weakened their contentions and their party. It remains to be seen whether the new concessions which they seem likely to secure will still further augment their strength. The Germans are a studious and a thoughtful people and just now they are absorbed in the consideration of the aims and methods of the socialist movement (mingled with a greater or less amount of governmental reform), and the world awaits their verdict with deep interest.