Social reform

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In the 19th century, social reforms were initially used to describe political efforts to improve the social situation of workers and their families. The term has all sorts of different aspects.

Social policy

Social reform is the term used to describe individual improvement measures in the context of social policy up to and including the establishment of a welfare state . While social policy in the narrower sense means the correction of the laws and institutions of the state, which is necessary because the liberal, purely market-oriented economy cannot carry out certain changes on its own, social reform is understood as a further change in the economy and its own structure for more social justice , which was striven for on the one hand via the detour of social policy, i.e. via the “state reform”, but also via a “attitude reform”, especially in the direction of a social partnership instead of class antagonisms.

Social reform approaches came from different sides in the 19th century. Initially, the bourgeois-liberal social reform played an important role. One of the first organizations was the Aachen Association for the Promotion of Labor (1824/34), the Central Association for the Welfare of the Working Class (1844), and later the Association for Socialpolitik (1873). In addition, there were social reform initiatives with a Christian background (Christian social reform), which u. a. went back to Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler , Adolph Kolping and Karl von Vogelsang . A significant source of such endeavors is that of Pope Leo XIII. Catholic social doctrine founded with the encyclical Rerum novarum .

Socialism, labor movement

In early socialism in France, Great Britain and Germany there was a decade-long dispute over the role of social reforms in the political and economic struggle of the labor movement . Saint-Simon and Louis Blanc, for example, were of the opinion that state social reforms first had to create the basis for workers to participate in cultural and political life. Friedrich Engels , Karl Marx and later Rosa Luxemburg criticized these views as illusory and called them “ reformist ”, which was meant derogatory. They saw it as a diversion from the goal of socialist revolution . Behind this dispute lay different conceptions of the character of the bourgeois state.

Social cuts or reforms to the social system

In the 1990s the term social reform got a different meaning. Business associations, economists and politicians claimed that in the face of various developments ( unemployment , demographic change , globalization ), the welfare state in Germany and other highly developed countries could only be "essentially preserved" if radical "reforms of the social security systems" were carried out means: Eliminate many social benefits, lower pensions, extend working hours, etc. Trade unionists, left-wing social democrats, socialists, social politicians, globalization critics, but also individual economists attacked this policy, which they call social cuts . They criticize using the term social reform for such politics as a euphemism .

Economic liberal political scientists also put forward the thesis that social security tends to make people immature towards the state. This was the opposite of Saint-Simon's thesis , with which the history of social reform began. In the 19th century there was still a broad consensus - even in the Catholic Church - that poverty, above all, made people immature.


  • Daniel T. Rodgers: Atlantic Crossings. The politics of social reform, 1870-1945 (original title: Atlantik Crossings , translated by Katharina Böhmer and Karl Heinz Siber). Steiner , Stuttgart 2010, ISBN 978-3-515-08482-6 ( Transatlantic Historical Studies , Volume 40).
  • Karl Bauer, Herta Gödker, Michael Keller, Manfred Lemke, Heide N. Rohloff, Hans-Joachim Vogler; Heide N. Rohloff (Ed.): History of private charity and social legislation in England and Germany. Pioneer of Corporate Social Responsibility ? The Blue Owl , Essen 2015, ISBN 978-3-89924-375-8 ( New English Studies , Volume 17).

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Cf. on this the 40-volume collection of sources on the history of German social policy 1867 to 1914 by Wolfgang Ayaß , Florian Tennstedt u. a.