How is this extraordinary position maintained? How is it possible that in a modern, largely industrial community, the representatives of working-class opinion should be regarded as public enemies?
The chief reason lies, of course, in the fact that the German Empire is not a democracy and is not governed by ministers responsible to Parliament. The immense numbers and rapid growth of the Social Democrats have therefore not really been a menace to the Government. In fact, it has even been held in some quarters that it has been to the interest of the German Government, which is based on the Prussian military caste, to manoeuvre the Social Democrats into an extreme position and then to hold them up as a terrible example of what democracy means. “This,” they can tell the German people, “is the alternative to Prussian rule.” A dangerous policy, it may be argued, for the Social Democrats may some day secure a majority in the Reichstag. The Prussian answer to this is that, without a redistribution of seats, this is barely conceivable; and that, were it to take place, the Reichstag would promptly be dissolved for new elections on a narrower franchise. Bismarck himself contemplated this course, and his successors would not shrink from it.
Another reason why it has been possible for the Government to ignore the Social Democrats has been the absence of a practical alternative programme on the part of the Social Democrats themselves. “If I had to make out a school report for the Social Democratic Movement,” said Prince Buelow in the Reichstag on one occasion, “I should say, ’Criticism, agitation, discipline, and self-sacrifice, I. a; positive achievements, lucidity of programme, V. b.’” The taunt is not undeserved. The Socialist Movement in Germany has suffered, like so many German movements, through a rigid adherence to logical theories. Under the leadership of old revolutionary thinkers like Bebel it has failed to adapt itself to the facts of modern German life. The vague phrases of its republican programme, survivals from a past epoch of European thought, have attracted to it a large mass of inarticulate discontent which it has never been able to weld into a party of practical reformers. In the municipal sphere and in the field of Trade Unionism, under the education of responsibility, German Socialism can show great achievements; but in national policy it has been as helpless as the rest of the German nation.
What effect, it will be asked, is the war of 1914 likely to have on the German working-class movement? In 1848 middle-class Germany made its stand for democracy. May we hope for a similar and more successful movement, in the direction of Western ideals and methods of government, from working-class Germany as a result of 1914?