Mr. Sargent to Mr. Frelinghuysen.
Berlin , January 19, 1884. (Received February 11.)
Sir: The spectre of communism ever rises in Europe, however wise and well directed the measures to keep it down. Its nihilistic forms in Russia startle the Government and community by crimes of peculiar atrocity. In Austria and France it is manifested by workingmen’s plots and agitations; in Spain it calls itself republican and honeycombs the army. There is less manifestation of socialism in Germany, partly because the Government is peculiarly vigilant, and partly because the German character is more patient than that of most other peoples. But it must be admitted that the privations of the lower classes in some parts of the Empire are very great, and their lot comparatively hopeless. It is very hard for an artisan or laborer, unless gifted with peculiar genius, to rise above the station assigned by his birth, and the most gifted by nature has to struggle against obstacles almost insurmountable.
It is difficult to fix a blame for this condition of things; perhaps any blame would be unjust. The Empire is overpopulated; the soil is inferior in a large part; landed property is held tightly under entail, etc.; the public service is difficult to enter without advantages of birth and influence, and can only be entered in youth, and after a preparation only possible to leisure and comparatively easy circumstances; the condition of Europe necessitates a large army, with consequent large taxation. All these facts and others tend to keep poor the poor; and the wisest and most disinterested statemanship may be powerless to remedy them. In many of these conditions Germany is not worse off than some of its neighbors, while, in the peace and good order which reign in it, it has an advantage.[Page 189]
For a long time the imperial chancellor seems to have been impressed with the idea that it is possible to remedy some of the evils of poverty by legislation, and to remove discontent among the workers of the Empire by making them obvious participators in its material benefits. The humanity of this idea cannot be challenged. Perhaps the future will realize it in some form. The readjustment of the relations of labor and capital; the equalization of conditions in life; the tendency of modern civilizations to accumulate great wealth in the hands of the few; the growth of monopolies; the effects of education upon the masses, with the new wants thus created; the possibility of eliminating vice and improvidence, and the general effect upon the progress of society and upon individual exertion of measures that will tend to more equally distribute wealth and comfort; all these and kindred problems may soon be forced upon the minds of statesmen, not merely by the uncalculating violence of communist factions, which would erect guillotines and cast lots to part the garments of the bourgeois; but also by the great facts of uncomplaining and hopeless misery, which are made more intolerable by the progress of enlightenment. In the mediæval age the priest taught his ignorant hearer that God assigned to man his lot, some to honor and some to dishonor, and it was rebellion against Him to murmur. Different theories prevail now in the average mind, and misery is not relieved even by the consciousness of obedience to Divine will.
Perhaps the chancellor is in advance of his time in endeavoring to form a body of laws that shall relieve poverty of some of its evils. Perhaps he is wiser than those who advocate a laisser aller course. In my No. 141, of April 19, 1883, I gave a sketch of the chancellor’s project for a workingman’s accident insurance law, which subsequently failed in the Reichstag. One element of that bill that led to much opposition was the provision for part payment of indemnities by the state. It was insisted that the bill provided no adequate fund out of which such payments could be made. The new bill of the chancellor has been published, occupying a dozen closely printed columns in the official newspaper, and is a marvel of organization. Certainly no people other than the Germans, who are noted for organizing power, could put such a law into execution; and I should doubt if such wheels within wheels could work under any superintendence. The bill contemplates the organization of all the labor givers in the German Empire into insurance companies, according to the nature of their several trades or employments, with corporate rights. These organizations are to pay the whole of the indemnity on the lives and limbs of their workmen; in proportion to the wages earned by the latter and to the danger tariff. All the companies will be under the supervision of an “imperial assurance board,” composed of several permanent members to be appointed by the Emperor, of four non-permanent ones to be appointed by the federal council, and as many of the same kind to be elected by the companies and the workingmen’s committees. These are the leading ideas of the bill, which is marvelously constructed with its elaborate machinery. It is intended to realize in part the proposition of the venerable Emperor, who recommended, in his memorable special message to Parliament of November 17, 1881, that something be done to ameliorate the condition of the poor, and thus to strike at the roots of social disaffection.
The bill is now before the federal council, and will be laid before the Reichstag at the March session. It has more chance of passage than its predecessor. Its degree of success as a law, will be a curious study. The labor employers will be least enthusiastic over its provisions. Complaint [Page 190] is made of the sharpness of competition against German fabrics. The effect of the bill in increasing the cost of production is to be observed. But the principal question really is, if such a partial measure will satisfy the socialists, who clamor against the wealthy classes, denounce property as robbery, and ask not for a pittance in case of accident or death, but the cutting off of the capitalists, great and small, and for a community of goods. These extremist views are fundamental, with the socialist agitators and adherents, if they may be judged by their utterances. If such really be their ideas, it may be doubted if so small a sop will for a moment divert the Cerberus.
I have, &c.,