Hjalmar Branting 1886
Translated: by Daniel Brandell;
Transcribed: by Hal Smith;
HTML Mark-up: by Andy Blunden.
This speech under the title above, which is here presented, was first held by Branting on an invitation from Gävle worker’s club October 24th 1886. It could be called the declaration of independence of the Swedish worker’s movement and the first program text of Swedish socialism. On some single issue it might seem old-fashioned — the objections against the temperance movement for example in the end of the speech is very typical for its time, but originate in an interpretation of Lassalle’s “iron law for salaries”, which Branting hardly maintained at a later stage. In general the speech is still typical for the views and politics of social democracy, though.
If there in our time is given a question, with a solution more important than anything, a question, which push forward and in a threatening way forces the state authorities to stop up, even if they ever wanted to leave it aside to continue the old diplomatic game of intrigues about minor things, a question, which more clearly stands out as the only big and decisive for the being or non-being of our culture, it is called the worker’s issue.
No past time has felt it, like it now appears for us. This should be a trivial, a common and apparent truth, but with the upside-down-turning of all historical concepts, which the present education causes, it is not that clear, that it does not need accentuation. History can speak of many underclass movement, some victorious, some defeated; I will only remind you of the classic ancient time’s slave upheavals, of the medieval and reformatory peasant movement, or of the big event, which is known as the French revolution, and which broke the political regime of the past upper class, nobility, church and monarchy. But neither the slaves of the ancient past, the peasants of medieval times, or the bourgeoisie class of the last century offer any essential resemblance with the non-privileged and without legal rights of the present, the workers, apart from their position as underclass. In every other way they are totally different. They are every one of them, that is the simple explanation, products of fundamentally different historical development periods.
The modern wage earner is himself a product of large-scale production. Not until the technical tools for the work process had developed, so it could no longer fit in the narrow framework of handicraft, when the little shop, where the master sat, working himself, surrounded by a few journeymen and apprentices, was expanded to a factory, where machines all the more replaced the artistic work by the human hand — not until then starts the worker in his present form to appear on the historical stage. Then they became to narrow and suppressive, these thousands of bonds and limitations, which fit the old times of small handicraft, but which was now in the way for development. The guild system with all it contents fell and had to fall, because time has passed it. But the consequence of this, however pleasant they were for the capital-owning bourgeoisie, who now got an open field, were not to the unmixed joy for the workers, which I shall show soon.
Before I continue, though, I want to, because of all misunderstandings, yet one time most emphatic accentuate, that it is not here a question of a reactionary defence of guilds and everything connected with them. I repeat that they, when they were abolished, were completely outdated and no longer worked, simply because of the reason that they originated from medieval production relationships [a marxist term, I don’t know the correct translation], which not any longer are the same. But when we seek the social organisation, which correspond to the present production relationships and under these are devoted to everybody’s welfare, we must first seek to understand the lessons from history with respect to past times. It is one of the biggest mistakes of the common flat liberalism, which still rage in the popular representations, since it has been forced out of science, that it imagines the axioms of national economy to be eternal, absolute truth, which past times because of stupidity opposed, and which could apply in all times and for all people. In reality, it is not in better condition with these eternal truths than that they only apply for the production relationship and the time, during which they were “discovered”; they are in fact also, as the old, by them the opposed views, expressions of the economical needs of the present. The industrial development from handicraft to manufacture production demanded the destruction of the old forms, and thereby arose, just when this would happen, the liberal national economic school with its demands on freedom of trade, freedom of production and free competition. These demands were now, when they were put forward, completely justified, and since development worked for them they have also been enforced. But the old views had been correct in their time, and if then some speculative head in the name of “common sense” wanted to propose for example freedom of trade in the 16th century society, he would have been as wrong as a ghost, who in our time would propose a re-establishment of the guild system from the 16th century.
We can thus see that the economic laws are not as simple as the freedom doctrinairians of the Manchester school want to believe. The medieval people did not live in pure stupidity in guilds, but it was rather the opposite a necessity in that period. And on the other hand, just as little as the guilds unified, just as little is it probable, or even possible, that the free competition would be the last word of economic progress. Even that axiom is, as the rest, relative. Justified against a lower form of development’s restrained system, it has its time, when it shall work and do good, because it fits the circumstances. But when these change further, when development has gone a step further and thus new, changed demands have arose, then it will be the free competition who will be an old-fashioned, lower axiom against a higher, which fit the new circumstances. We can already very clearly see, what this higher axiom will be, which defeats the ideas of free competition from the Manchester liberals: it will be the ordered, unified, social production, which as well as free competition fits the large scale manufacture of goods, but which do not have its hopeless disadvantages in the distribution of profits.
But let’s return to the worker, where we left him at the enforcement of freedom of production. We have since then understood the big truth, that the economical laws are not absolute but relative, and if we keep this in mind we could without any subjectivity study how the circumstances have changed. With the abolishment of the guilds fell the last barriers for the entrance of large scale production. The free competition could begin its work, consisting of — what? Well, we shall see.
We all know the price of a good for the moment is decided by the cost of production. Under the regime of free competition every producer’s ambition will be to set as cheap price as possible on the goods to sell before the competitors. In other words, the common ambition will be to make the cost of production as small and low as possible. A very significant part of these cost are the salaries. Consequently, it will be a direct cause of free competition, that the worker’s salaries will be as suppressed as possible, i.e. as far, as it barely can fulfil his most necessary needs.
To this side of the story, to the necessary consequences of free competition, that the salaries always try to reach the lowest possible level, which still admit life and giving birth to the next generation of wage-slaves, I will come back to further on. But for the moment we have to consider another side of the story, the effect of free competition on the small-scale production.
Small production costs will, as we saw, be the reason for industry under the regime of free competition. He who produces too expensive, cannot sell, he cannot remain in the competition fight, he will be economically destroyed. And now it will be the case, that the handicraftsman, the small producer, will become too expensive to compete with the large-scale production. I do not have to bore you with examples, because the statement will hardly be contradicted, and we see it confirmed with our own eyes every day. How could it be possible to compete in cheapness, when he who works by hand need as long time to complete one piece of some good, when some machines can produce 100 or 1000 pieces? To this comes that the handicraftsman, who needs particularly skilled people, must pay higher wages than the industrialist, who can let a boy manage his machines, which he “compensates” for a partly sum. To get machines himself, has the handicraftsman no money for. He needs capital to buy them and to keep the enormously expanded business up. Can one or another make this change, he will moreover no longer be a handicraftsman, but an industrialist, when he goes from small-scale to large-scale production; he saves his own person, but he can’t stop his old class from extinction.
Large-scale production is thus as we have seen, economically superior handicraft, and it must consequently in the struggle for existence between the two ways of production become the victorious. This fall of handicraft shops and replacement with factories, intended for large-scale production, have in the big countries of culture gone further than here. In America and England are already professions, like for example the shoemaker’s, drawn into the factory industry, while it is here still carried on as handicraft. But because we are a couple of decades behind in economical development we shall not be fooled to believe, that our economical future won’t be essentially the same as for the other so called civilised people. The extinction of handicraft is given for us as well as in other places; even if the death struggle can take some time, it has already started though, and can’t by some artificial trials be stopped even for a shorter time.
It is obvious that this change in the form of production from mainly handicraft, which still belonged far in the last century, yes, in our country even far until the middle of this century, to mainly factory operation, must from many views highly significant effect the worker’s situation. From being isolated in small workshops, where they certainly worked for their masters, but still was on some sort of friendly foot with him, to being collected by the large-scale industry in whole armies, which all had their duty within the same factory, but had no personal relationship to the owner, especially since the companies to a larger extent started to make the shareholding system more common. Hereby followed a sharpening of the class antagonism, something we thus see lie itself in the present essence of form of production, and which cannot be denied with some simpleminded wishes, as for example the following sentence in the resolution taken at the first worker’s meeting in Stockholm 1879: “that as well the workers as the employers should try to over-bridge the gap, which now separates them from each other, so that partly the employers, through being better role-models and through in a friendly and loving way approach their workers, should try to give them a moral support, partly the workers with confidence should meet their employers.” Such a resolution could have a meaning in a society, where the industry still is on a medieval development level, but in a country, whose working masses every year to a larger extent is driven to service in the large-scale industry, it is both too harmless and meaningless. Or what kind of contact or “loving approach” will one create between for example capitalists living in the Capital, who owns stocks in some industry in Bergslagen, and the workers who struggle and work for these capitalists to get rent and profit? It is impossible to believe, that some kind of patriarchy relationship can be sustained.
The sharpening of the class antagonism was thus the first effect of this change in production relationship, partly through bringing the workers together for themselves, partly through the abolishment of all personal bonds between the owners to the means of work and the users of the same. Hereby fell the embellished and confusing mask for the workers, which before had hidden the naked reality for them: that the worked for others, who put the profits of their work in their own pockets. The worker in the large-scale industry could not avoid feeling, how personally useless he is for them, who use him. He or somebody else, that is equal, but rather someone else, if he is willing to sell himself at a lower price. All false sentimentality is thus torn away, and the very foundation for the whole party, the egoistic class interest, is naked entering daylight. The shareholder wants as large profit as possible on his stocks, let then the worker go on starving wages, as long as the dividend could be made a little higher, so that the stocks could be sold with large profits. The new buyers in turn would then make the same experiment again, or at least get a decent rent on their overpaid papers. It will be the worker who have to pay for the party, not for only one capitalist, but one after another, until he in despair can’t take no more, but get out in strike. The answer will be dismissal — because the companies could never, if one believe them, “bare” any wage raises — and the whole power in society, both courts and bayonets, stand in the background to give the employer’s demands support enough — never the worker’s, if anyone believe it! Do you remember the strike in Hudiksvall last summer; did it not happen just as I described it here?
Through the sharpening of class antagonism the feeling within today’s worker is raised though, which one day will be the mean to his freedom, his class consciousness. Today’s industry worker see around him comrades, which are in the same condemnation as he is. Through the impersonal character, which the class struggle take under large-scale production, the worker is getting distanced from the for small-scale production significant belief, that in the different more or less humane employers see the reason for his problematic position. It is thereby more clear for him that the problem does not, as one could believe before, originates in that “the master is irritating”, but it originates deeper, in the very situation, that he has to sell his manpower to others, which own the means to make it fruitful. During the medieval ages and even far beyond there are plenty of examples of aggression against single bloodsuckers, but any real class consciousness among the exploited class, which were able to see over persons and watch the whole system, could not arise. Large-scale industry has changed all this. The workers is beginning to realise more and more, that they have to direct their efforts not as much against individuals, but against the very system, which makes the existence of these individuals possible. They also see that to the large extent the employers humanity or lack of such does not make a big impact on their position; because even an employer who is by human sympathy personally willing to raise the wages, cannot do this more than just a little, because free competition works as a obligatory law even towards single employers. If he would raise his wages significantly higher than the other, less sympathetic competitors, he would put himself in a position were he could impossibly sell his goods as cheap as they, or in other words, he would by such a step only cause ruin for himself and those who worked for him.
Also in another way — and maybe even the most important — does the enforcement of large-scale production lead to the sharpening of class antagonism and thus indirectly to the raising of the working estate’s class consciousness. I here mean the extreme rise in inequality in the distribution of wealth, which follow large-scale production as the shadow the body, as long as the unnatural relationship withstand, that the means of work do not belong to the entire society, but to single privileged individuals.
We could maybe understand this most simply by an example, that such a gathering of wealth on a few hands will follow the change in the production relationship, as I showed is taking place. Assume that in a city there are for example 20 bakers, of which every one has his own small group of clients in his near surrounding, on which he can make a living, maybe even in a few cases live good. Then for example some enterprising individual inherits a capital, which he decides to put in a magnificent, modern bakery in the town. He assimilates all the newest inventions, save fuel and manpower, and become by producing at a large scale able to both make his good to less costs and to get less profit on each bread than the small bakers could afford. Maybe he lowers the price on the good a bit the first time, to get customers; the people come flocking and the liberal-democratic press celebrates: look at the use of free competition! Well, so far so good. But what happens next? The town won’t eat much more bread than before. But the new large-scale baker, who sell a little cheaper and had powerful shops in every part of the city, collect the vast part of all old 20 baker’s market. They cannot live on what is left. The poorest of them make bankruptcy; the others voluntarily change their production to being middle-hand for the exchange of goods, the become small salesmen, a desperate trial, which commonly is the last resource on the by competition defeated small handicraftsmen’s journey downward, down to the proletariat without property; only a few could keep up a troublesome existence with their old profession. Of the old bakery workers have the large part become without work, because the new, big steam bakery needs proportionally far less human manpower than the many small it replaces. On the other hand goes the large part of the profits, which before, since the workers got their share, was divided among the 20 masters, now only into the new large-scale baker’s pocket. And neither this cut in bread-price, which maybe started this new period in the town’s history of baking, which the “popular” half-weekly magazine talked so much about, can one not believe will sustain for sure. Because when the large-scale baker feel secure, he can well take back what he put down and even more, certain about that no dangerous competitor would have a reason to start. The final result of the story will thus be: an actual monopoly for the large-scale baker magnate on almost the total bread selling in the town, by which he can more fundamentally rip off the public; that the total profit goes into one pocket instead of 20; that some members of the town’s solid middle class are forced down to the proletariat and the rests position is much shaken; and finally that a number of workers have become unemployed and thereby increased the competition about the few remaining jobs, which thus the employers can get occupied for lower salaries than before.
To make the example more clear I have of course had to exclude several circumstances, which add in the real life and make the situation more complex. But I don’t think that any real objection can be made against the declared scheme for how the limitation of small-scale production for large-scale happens. One can see the effects in both directions on society’s scale. One person climbs up to significantly higher wealth, 20 others go down towards poverty. The middle class is thus then, who will loose more, because it loose to both sides, but of course most numerous downward. This is also what is taking place in reality to a large extent, and with a speed, which should open the eyes for even the most blind opponents to socialism for where we are going. Fortune is gathered on a few hands at millionaires and multimillionaires, while on the other hand the proletariat’s, the big mass’s without property, crowd ceaselessly recruit individuals from the middle class, which has succumbed in the wild struggle over the gold.
I can’t deny myself the pleasure to state some statistical figures to support what I have said, because this fact, the continuos destruction of the middle class, to the very limit is denied by the supporters of liberalism. On the contrary, they seek to make it possible, that the common wealth increase, although they usually has no other proof, than that the poor classes get some needs, for example linen etc, better fulfilled now than before. Hereby follows not at all, though, that the purchasing power of the mass really is bigger, but only that some needs are stronger now than before, maybe at the expense of other. It is obvious that I don’t have to be richer one year than another, if I one year buy more clothes, but at the same time eat cheaper and worse food. Moreover, even the assumption that some, always small, raise of the so called standard of life, the common measurement for what one necessarily needs in life, has happened, it is thereby not at all proved, that the gap between poor and rich still can’t have increased; for this needs only that the wealth of the rich increase faster than the common raise of the needs. In any way, this is unquestionable and for what we now want to establish, the dissolution of the middle class, totally enough.
The indicated figures are from the demographic statistics of the kingdom of Sachsen, and are as follow: Of 1,000 tax payers, that is, those who earn more than 300 mark, no less than 767 belonged to the poorest class, those who can’t reach 800 mark, in 1880. If one count to the poor all of those who can’t reach 2,200 mark, not less than 948 of 1,000 tax payers belong here. Only 47 of 1,000 have an average income between 2,000 and 9,600 mark, and 5 out of 1,000 pass this limit.
Well, if one now look at how these in themselves characteristic numbers change from one year to another, would, if the liberals were right in their claims that the national well-being grows continuously, the poor class fall in number and the better fortunate increase. The opposite is true, though. From 1870-80 grew the poor class from 748 to 767 per 1,000, and their average income fell from 474 to 460 mark. The millionaires on their hand increased as well; yes, the highest tax class, persons with more than 100,000 in yearly income, increased in the period 79-82 from 68 to 96 persons. The middle class could however not keep up with these growths above and under them. I am not presenting any figures for this, since they are not completely reliable; it is however unquestionable that it is not in line with the others.
Some other figures, which point in the same direction, I find unexpectedly in the last issue of Dagens Nyheter. The are from Preussia. In 1875 every employer had on average 33 assistants; in 82 this average was raised to 62. One can see the growths in large-scale production. and the handicraftsmen decreased during the same time with 6 percent, while the wage earners increased with 39 percent. Is it not obvious, that such a transition of the social classes internal relationship must lead to a complete change even in the most existing social establishment, which are made for a numerous middle class, but no longer fit, when it vanishes!
If we now summarise the results, to which our investigation has led us, we can more clearly realise the significant for the historical period, in which we now are, and then we also get the direction, to in which way these bad conditions should be abolished, which we now can see around us and for which it is no longer possible to close the eyes.
This is what is happening to our civilised societies! And it is the for keeping these conditions up, that one now demands the underclass to sacrifice life and blood. It is because the truth about this should not be unspoken, that a “liberal” government threatens us with a socialist law, thereby stating its own bankruptcy and showing us the way of violence instead of peaceful propaganda.
Do one not understand, that if the previous statements are true, if the economical development all the more push us toward the future goal I just mentioned, when the last remains of the middle class has vanished and the millionaires stands alone against the hungry masses — that in that case no emergency powers act as in Germany, no executions as in France after the Commune can stop the development?
But leave the blindness of the power beside. It will punish itself when the time has come.
Through a purely historical reflection, as I in the previous only from a few viewpoints could enlighten, but still enough to get a hint of how the problem is addressed, we come to an understanding of the ongoing social development, according to which socialism will be the natural result of this development. Its enforcement will be, as already Marx showed in his “Communist Manifesto” 1847 [sic!], a lot more simple and easy than the destruction of the small handicraft and its replacement with large-scale industry. Because the difficulties decrease of course as the number of such people is small, which have an interest and advantage of remaining the old. To make what a few millionaires call “their” property to the whole society’s belongings must meet far less resistance than the expropriation of a numerous and powerful social class, as the petty-bourgeoisie once was. And have the implacable development handled these, shall it handle the millionaires as well, when their hour struck.
What socialism demands is now nothing else, than the opening of our eyes for the social process, which take place around us, and when we have convinced ourselves in which direction it goes, change our social establishments thereafter, not let them stand as the once were, when the internal building of society was totally different. As well as private property and the means of work fit small handicraft, as impossible will private property be when large-scale production has reached a higher degree of development. If we return to our old example with the bakery industry’s transition to large-scale production, it is obvious that no objection could be raised towards that the 20 home-bakers owned their own bakeries. Their profits were not too unjust, many workers had their outcome from them; the very division into several small production locations made the system with one manager for and owner to every bakery rather suitable; and to this come also that back then a not insignificant percentage of the workers could look forward to being “their own” in the future. But when the large-scale bakery pushed the others away, the situation changed completely. Now can one ask, why one person shall, because he happen to get capital, sit on a monopolised profit, far bigger than he could claim even if he was a very good manager. It is however not his good management that gets the profit, but his position as capitalist. If now this capital wasn’t his, but society’s, would the same good be done for production, but the capitalist and his unjust and unfair profit fell off; it would be a complete unnecessary parasite on the social body. Everyone except the capitalist himself would gain from such a change. The bread price could be lowered and the bakery still could give better wages and shorter working hours for the employed. We come thus to the conclusion that in a more intensified large-scale production is the capitalist unnecessary and positively harmful outgrowth in the production system. He is not needed, but the capital he called his needs to be used in society for everybody’s welfare. In his hands, as private property, capital only serves to destroy him in mad and criminal luxury, while it in the possession of society could be used to comfort everybody’s necessary burden of work and thus make life happier for the big mass of people.
Socialism stands thus as a necessary, logical effect from development itself. As well as the handicraft class every day goes under in the struggle for existence, as sure can we already at a distance hear the death bell ring for the capitalist class. It was needed to bring large-scale production to victory. But when it has done that job it is clear, that it in turn must go under, because it simply is no longer needed. Society itself replaces the capitalists as caretakers for all its member’s best of the inheritance from the past generations. Why should then a certain class serve this purpose, which always puts its own class interests in the first place? It will on the contrary be the great advantage of this next step, of the victory of socialism, that when it happens all class power is broken and all class antagonism abolished. Fist then will equality become real, from being a beautiful phrase, which is considered theoretically but denied in practice.
It is the big historical task of the modern working class to complete this development, to enforce the verdict over the capitalist class, when its time is out, at prepare the transition to the socialistic society. The industrial worker himself, as I mentioned in the beginning and as we have already seen, a product of the capitalistic large-scale production, will through the power of circumstances be the grave-digger for this private capitalism. He will be the tool, who shall make the change, when the development has made the time mature for it.
If one realise this, then is it also clear why the present worker’s movement must be socialistic. That it is simply means, that it is aware of its purpose, its reasons and task in society. If it is not, it still trembles in darkness, seeks through small means to make comfort for the troubles of the moment, and stands puzzled without being able to see either forward or backward, listening to unessential prophet’s proposals, without a safe ground to build on.
Perhaps somebody thinks that this judgement over the non-socialistic worker’s movement is too harsh, and proudly points out the example of England. The English unions, I then answer, have without a doubt done a lot to improve the economic conditions for their members, and they stand with respect to solid and good organisation as examples to aim for, for unions in every country. But — there is a but. First they have only been able to reach a part of the English working class; they have to some extent been a worker’s aristocracy, which often have looked more to their own interests than to the entire class’. Exactly why they have lacked the leading star of socialism has made them forget to work to conquer a political power, and have limited their efforts to strive for mainly keeping up the wages. Hereby have they until recently been extremely favoured by the circumstance, that England has had the industrial domination on the world market. But when this exemption starts to disappear and other countries with success compete on the market, then will also the advantages this privileged position has given before, indeed mostly to the capitalists, but also in some degree to England’s workers, disappear. They will become equals with their brothers on the continent, and the effects from this have already started to show. On one hand have socialism the last year got a push in England, so that it almost begins to infect the old union members; on the other hand it is evident that even the gigantic resources of the English unions can’t possibly resist the pressure of the capitalist system: the wages are lowered, and the funds are emptied for the unemployed, without any improvement in sight. It is a fact, that openly must be acknowledged, that every unemployment fund in England have suffered severely during the existing crisis, and this has certainly to a large extent contributed to open the eyes of the English workers for the insufficiency for lonely, notice lonely union politics, so that many sign in this very moment points toward that not even England will be an example of how a union without socialism looks.
The worker’s movement, which claim to understand itself, must thus in our time be socialistic. It must be founded on the acknowledgment of the superiority and justification of large-scale production — thereby is at the same time its position given to all reactionary frauds to try to push development back to handicraft and small-scale production, with accompanying tariff walls etc. But it has also realised, that this large-scale production under its present circumstances must lead to the means of work, the gathering of capital on less and less hands, while the mass of people is pressed down to wage earners without property for the capitalists, and the independent middle class, the marrow and core of the old society, will dissolve and fall. The only way out, which development itself show on to cure the present glaring conditions, which hereby follow, is to expropriate the millionaire’s capital, make capital also legally what it has already economically been, society’s collective property.
This is the final goal. But the way there is still long, which the socialists are the first to admit. It is yet to do, when we have the goal clear for us, to investigate the means and the ways, on which the worker’s movement have to walk to approach this future ideal, which we however never must loose in sight in the small fights of today. This society of equality, where all possibilities to class differences is uprooted, where work not only is, but is acknowledged as the foundation for all material and immaterial culture, where the ordered, unified work for both private and collective best entered instead of the ruthless, murderous competition between people, where the struggle for existence is fought collectively by the whole society against the natural obstacles, which stands in the way for its happiness, not within the society between individuals — this is the new, future realm, which for us free thinkers and materialists entered as sure, proven hope instead of the fairytale about a heaven on the other side of the grave, which still is the last anchor of salvation for many unhappy people in the storms of life. We socialists want to show the people, that it have in its own hand to create here on earth an existence, happier and most of all more certain then the priest’s heaven, from which no one has returned to tell if it exists. But indeed we won’t experience the day of triumph for socialism ourselves. It is still our obligation towards those who shall come after us, against those we personally hold dear in the next generation, to do our work as far as we can; others have to complete the work.
According to the very nature, the workers must at the same time point their attention in two different ways, of which neither can be neglected, if the movement is to develop even and fast. On one hand they have to organise their class as political party, which put as its goal to get the political power, i.e. the law-making power in its hands, to be able to enforce all necessary and immediately executive law reforms for the worker’s best, then finally arrange the transition to the socialistic society. On the other hand they must organise to be able to some degree fight the capitalists in the daily economical struggle for bread and butter. This organisation is most practically and naturally done after professions; its form is the union. Of course should both these organisations, the union and the political, go hand in hand and work together for the big goal: the complete liberation of the working class. But experience has everywhere shown, that the two organisations should be separated. I shall explain why.
The idea of the union is to gather every worker of a certain profession, first in one town, then all over the country, to collect the spread forces to a collective resistance against the outrage of capital. This organisation is the only one, which the workers can use to somewhat reduce the effects of what Lassalle called “the iron wage law”, or the economical law, which makes it impossible under the present way of production to more than momentarily reach sufficiently over what the worker need to live. I showed incidentally already in the beginning, that it is a necessary result of the free competition, that the wages, which is a part of the prices of goods, is pressured towards this limit. And in the same direction works also the spreading of machines, whereby a number of hands become idle and is forced to seek work at a lower salary than before. Enough, we all know, that the lonesome worker must sell his good, his manpower, to the price he can get; because he most of all must live. If he on the other hand gather in a union, which is able to collect a little fund, he has the great advantage to at least more than before be participating concerning wage and work conditions. If the offer is far too bad from the industrialist, the worker answers no and pleads to the union. This takes, if it is possible, his side, and gives him support while the strike is on, partly from its own funds, partly from common collections among the whole profession throughout the country, yes, maybe even abroad, and stops as far as possible strike-breakers from taking up the work. The advantages hereby are clear, and they have been emphasised the last years so often and so powerful, that I think it is superfluous to here further penetrate this subject. I will only, concerning union, allow me to make two remarks.
One is this: the union’s goal must be to include a profession’s every worker in a town as far as possible. Disagreements and different understandings in political and religious questions should hereby not be any obstacle for taking up new members. Everyone must enter, if there is a possibility. Because upon this depends to a large extent what use the union can do. If there are workers outside, either of laziness and indifference, or e.g. because they as religious phantasts [sic!] does not want to “draw in yoke” with the unfaithful, as the readers use to say, then the total business of the union become lame. Its decisions can’t apply for those outside, and the employers always have a welcome reason for refusing to negotiate with representatives of what they in their generosity and wisdom call “a bunch of trouble-makers among the workers”. That’s why I can’t enough encourage every worker, who has yet not entered his union: do not wait, do not take the responsibility for the movement of your whole class’ freedom to go more slowly than necessary, maybe because you are personally dissatisfied with one thing or another, or one person or another, within the organisation.
Just because of this the unions goal is to include every worker, awake or asleep or half asleep, conservative or radical socialists, readers and heathens, it follows naturally, that this organisation is not right to also be the political point of association for the class conscious workers. Of course in most cases those, who best have understood the real essence of the worker’s question, i.e. the socialists, will actually get the leadership within the unions. So it has been in Denmark, so it has been in Stockholm with a few exceptions, and so will it be everywhere, I imagine. But for the union’s own interest, should the socialists be eager to not in general let the unions as such become the fires of political agitation. For this, it is better with independent, social-political organisations, which associate to the social-democratic program and put up as their goal to work for. Such an organisation is in this town Gävle Worker’s Club, on whose invitation I have the honour to speak here this evening; in Stockholm the organisation is called, as we all know, Socialdemokratiska Förbundet. These associations are the first elements for the social-democratic worker’s party, whose complete organisation as independent political party now can’t wait much longer.
The second remark I want to make is this: Don’t demand too much of the unions! I have already when mentioning the English situation swiftly touched how it is, that the English union both could have done what they have, and that one now more apparent can see the limits of their powers. A one-sided union movement can never reach the goal, which one realise easy if one considers, that it can do nothing against the on-going concentration of capital. The capitalists, against who the unions should claim their and their workers wills, will therefore be harder to economically defeat and withstand, completely apart from the fact that that the employers soon learn the secret with unions and against the union form an employer’s ring, which dispose such a horrible capital, that the forecast of the fight darkens for the workers. The unions could thus not alone bring help against the workers dependence on the capitalists. They can relieve somewhat, but not completely rectify the evil, which as we have seen, comes from the very organisation of work today itself. But even if one thus can’t expect any miracles from them, they are for the worker of greatest importance as his natural defence organisation against the unlimited sinking of the wages. And every penny, by which the union can raise the hourly salary, is a sign for the working slave of an existence a little more fit for human beings; it is a light, but small, which bides better times.
By the union must thus, as we have seen, the workers have another, political party organisation, whose goal in short is, to conquer the political power in society for the workers, and before it has completely happened, work for as good laws as possible for the worker’s best.
As energetic as the workers should within their unions resist every attempt to lower their already small wages, as powerful must the class conscious among them, the social-democratic educated workers, work for that their class shall get suitable political influence. Both parts are thus needed: the unions as well as a political organisation. A fully awake, about his class’ position aware worker must then consider as his duty to belong to both his profession’s union and be written into the worker’s party’s political organisation. Through in a suitable way use these two weapons shall the worker’s movement most fats and even evolve against its big final goal: the complete freedom for the working class from all slavery, political, economical, social and spiritual.
But how will this happen? Through revolution or reforms?
Revolution! By the very mentioning of the word tremble the philistines, in the edge of society as well as in its deep layers. “Socialism is revolutionary”; thereby one think one has put us off and have no more obligations to prove us wrong.
Yes, socialism is revolutionary in that sense, that it is a totally new principle, brotherhood’s, solidarity’s principle, which it honours opposite to the “liberal” thesis that everyone should try to fight his way through; if he fails, the worse for him! It is revolutionary, since it leaves the old foundation and builds on a new one, a better and assigned by development itself.
But f one with revolutionary means what the philistines understand with this word, something which has to do with street riots, murder and plunder, then socialism as such is far from revolutionary, but rather must be described as in the very meaning conservative. And the reason for this is simple. No other opinion as high as the socialism makes the individuals, the persons, irresponsible for bad conditions. We social-democrats have overcome the short-sightedness, which believe that common social accidents depend on the bad will of individuals. We want to abolish the system, which is the root and source of evil, but this will not happen by killing some single capitalists. The example from Belgium this summer is in this sense instructive. In the districts, where socialism had gained a footing among the masses, where no unrest. It was on the contrary it the very worst positioned workers in the districts, which had not been touched much by the social-democratic propaganda, which made the violence, planless and meaningless, of course, and which therefore was swiftly suppressed with bloody strictness.
The Belgian socialists demanded directly and still demand on amnesty for the miserable, who in despairing rage took revenge for many years of nameless suffering. But they encouraged their friends to clam down, knowing well that planless violence is of no use against the bourgeoisie’s disciplined army.
Socialism is thus revolutionary in principle, i.e. it puts up a totally new principle in place of the old, not just patches this; but it is not revolutionary in that sense, that it should eager planless attacks on single opponent’s person or property. Hereby is of course not said that we under any circumstances should promise to follow the path our opponents please to call legal; notice well, that it is they themselves, who has made the laws. Just as little as any party, which seriously mean to reach a goal, with the hand on the heart could promise such a thing, as little do we for all possible events bind our hands. Assume that our Swedish over-class instead of listening to our advice and the demands of the people that for a start get universal suffrage, so that the workers at least could get a possibility in the parliament to make their wishes heard and respected, assume, I say, that instead the working class through a particular emergency powers act is deprived of every trace of rights to speak, print and assemble, and one tried here as in Russia and Germany, which countries are our monarch’s ideal states, with police and bayonets to hold the movement for the peoples liberation, to the definite abolishment of poverty and misery, down. Should it not under such circumstances become not only the social-democrat’s, but every honest democrat’s obligation to use every occasion, that is given, to break such a hated and condemned tyranny? We should not in “the law”, in the best case a parliamentary majority’s or as we see in Denmark a real absolute minister’s work, rise for us some godly creature, which one under no thinkable circumstances can pass. We have had revolutions, violations of law, both from above and underneath, before in Sweden. If the natural paths for development are shut, it has to seek other ways. Because it must forward first and uttermost, even if a tyrannical law should be a bit tarnished thereby. Least of all should the bourgeoisie, which itself has not one, but repeating revolutions to thank for its empire, 1789, 1830, 1848, take it badly, if one or another of the pioneers of the proletariat talk a little loud of the coming social revolution, thereby assuming the unfortunately all too possible assumption, that the leading class never shall friendly give up their power, but the people shall have to give their parliamentary representative’s demands with guns in the and.
If the over-class however wants to respect the will of the people, even when it demands an abolishment of its own preference rights, so will it not be the socialists, who unnecessary calls for violence. But the first condition for a peaceful worker’s movement is, that it shall have some means by which it can raise its voice. Universal suffrage is thus the price, which the bourgeoisie can pay to get liquidation with administration, instead of bankruptcy, fetched to the court of the revolution.
Here as in many other of the questions of practical politics is our opinions met by the bourgeoisie democracy’s, or in other words the old liberal worker’s movement’s. The question is therefore directed fairly often towards us social-democrats: why don’t you consider it enough to co-operate with the liberals? They want the same as you in several questions. Seek to get them solved, before you talk about socialism.
We have, would I answer to this, two significant reasons, why we are not satisfied with the worker’s movement being the tail of the liberal or radical bourgeoisie.
First: the liberal program is insufficient. Assume all of its issues would be enforced at once, something that would be possible tomorrow, and we had universal suffrage, complete freedom of religion, republic, only direct taxes. Would thereby the social question be solved? Would it even, if we to these listed issues add other as normal workday and state insurance for everyone, demands which modern liberalism, in sharp contradiction with its own fundamental thesis, have felt obliged to take from the socialist’s transition-program? No, almost all of these common democratic demands are enforced in some countries, in France, in the United States. But there as well as here stands the very main question, the unequal distribution of wealth, still as unsolved as anywhere else. It is true that some obstacles are removed there, so the transition to a better condition can be realised with less resistance. But that is not the same thing, as that the removal of these obstacles is the very solution.
The main incorrectness of liberalism is to believe, that everything can be solved with political reforms, when what really is needed is social. It says it wants to limit the over-class’ pressure on the masses fight for this reason for example state-church and monarchy. But what does it help with the removal of one despotic person, it the despotism of the circumstances still falls as a weight of lead over the suppressed mass. It is, as Georg Brandes have said, a mockery to ensure the lame the right to walk; but this is exactly what liberalism does. It declares freedom from one bond to the other, but it does not see, how the one that is free has got the strength to get up and use it. Liberalism declares the freedom of work: but the worker still have to take the starvation wage, which is offered to him, because he can’t wait to sell his manpower. In the same way everywhere: freedom at paper and in theory, but practically and real the economically stronger’s total domination over the weaker. And all issues in the program from the Örebro meeting this summer, by which the meeting majority declared to hold on to “exclusively”, would not if they were enforced, even shake the power of the capitalist class, much less free the worker from his dependence.
The realisation about the total inadequacy of liberalism for the worker’s needs of reforms is thus the first reason, why we social democrats must hold on that socialism will come up on the Swedish worker’s programs. The second is that, which is apparent from our earlier investigation, that only the socialistic ideology give the working estate clarity about how and where the development goes and which laws it follows. A “liberal” worker walks in this case in such complete ignorance, that he for example can come and seriously talk of thrift, temperance and what all the other virtues are called as means, not for single individuals success in life — but for raising the whole working estate, the whole solution to the social question! As if not more thrift above the really sufficient big, as by the force of the circumstances are laid on the worker, would be for the class — I still do not speak about single individuals, exceptions, who always confirms the rule — absolutely impossible, since the worker’s wage by the power of competition almost always must be at the lowest possible level, for him to exist. It is nonsense, there is nothing worse, disgusting hypocrisy, to come to them who have least in society and preach that they have to save more. Assume that they did anyway, that the whole working class together gave up some small amusement, for example a little snifter to the dinner, what would be the effect? Maybe the workers could keep the saved money to use after their own taste? No, sure not, whatever temperance publications and temperance apostles may say. The often mentioned economical law of the wage’s striving to the lowest possible level would not hesitate to assert itself. Unemployment would in very short time make workers sell their manpower for the same price as before, minus the now withdrawn, unnecessary pennies for liquor. The profit on the business will eventually stay at the employers, who get their manpower cheaper; for the workers would a need less inevitably has a corresponding wage-cut as only effect.
We must thus have an independent, fully aware, socialistic worker’s movement also in our country, that is the final conclusion, which this investigation has led us to. Socialism’s red, international flag, the symbol of brotherhood and freedom, is also planted in Swedish ground. I this sign, and this only, shall the Swedish worker be able to, equality to his brothers abroad, approach freedom from all slavery, social, political, economical and spiritual. First through, with rapture and patience, entering the social democracy shall he prove himself worthy of the big task development have given him: to be executor of the class society and founder of the society of equality.
24 Oct 1886