Erfurt Program

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Erfurt Program


a program of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, adopted in October 1891 at the party’s congress in the city of Erfurt. The Erfurt Program replaced the Gotha Program (1875), which had been criticized by K. Marx and F. Engels for making concessions to Lassalleanist principles and for grossly distorting the basic program and tactics of the revolutionary movement. Engels played a decisive role in formulating the basic theoretical propositions of the program.

The Erfurt Program comprised a maximum program and a minimum program. The maximum program set forth the ultimate goals and the socialist principles of the Social Democratic Party. Drawing on Marx’s Das Kapital, the Erfurt Program offered an analysis of the capitalist mode of production and delineated the transformation, according to socioeconomic laws, of private ownership of the means of production into socialist ownership. The program stated that a precondition for economic emancipation was the attainment of political power by the proletariat, which required an independent political party to fulfill its world historic mission. The program pointed out that loyalty to the principles of proletarian internationalism was one of the most important conditions for the success of the German working-class movement.

The minimum program elucidated the goals for which the working class had to struggle in a bourgeois society. In the political sphere, the program put forward demands aimed at securing and increasing democratic freedoms. It called for the introduction of a democratic electoral system, self-government for the people, equal rights for women, and unlimited freedom of assembly and association; it also stated that questions of war and peace should be decided by representatives of the people. In the area of social policy, the program demanded the introduction of free medical services and a progressive income tax; in addition, it called for effective national and international legislation to protect the worker by instituting an eight-hour workday, prohibiting the hiring of children below the age of 14, and reforming the social insurance system.

The Erfurt Program was the first and only Marxist program in the history of German Social Democracy; a new program adopted in 1921 at a congress in Görlitz and finally ratified in 1925 at a congress in Heidelberg reflected the opportunist degeneration of the party. The Erfurt Program was of great importance for the development of the socialist movement in other countries and was highly praised by V. I. Lenin. At the same time, Engels and Lenin criticized its fundamental shortcomings: it did not set forth the task of fighting for a democratic republic and did not call for the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The German Social Democratic leaders did not inform the party’s rank and file of Engels’ criticism of the draft of the Erfurt Program (his work on this question was not published until 1901), and several of his important comments were not taken into account in writing the final text of the program. Despite the basic defects of the Erfurt Program, its adoption, which marked the victory of Marxism over Lassalleanism and other petit bourgeois trends in German Social Democracy, was a landmark in the history of the German and international working-class movement.


Engeis, F. “K kritike proekta sotsial-demokraticheskoi programmy 1891.” K. Marx and F. Engeis, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 22.
Lenin, V. I. “Proekt programmy nashei partii.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 4.
Lenin, V. I. Gosudarstvo i revoliutsiia. Ibid., vol. 33.
Lenin, V. I. “Marksizm o gosudarstve.” Ibid.
Protokoll über die Verhandlungen des Parteitages der Sozialdemokratischen Partei Deutschlands: Abgehallen zu Erfurt von 14. bis 20. Okt. 1891. Berlin, 1891.
Kautsky, K. Erfurtskaia programma. Moscow, 1959. (Translated from German.)
Ovcharenko, N. E. V bor’be za revoliutsionnyi marksizm: Problemy teorii, taktiki i organizatsii germanskoi sotsial-demokratii v kontse XlX v. [Moscow] 1967.
Tetnev, V. P. “K istorii razrabotki Erfurtskoi programmy germanskoi sotsial-demokratii.” In Rabochee dvizhenie v novoe vremia. Moscow, 1964.
Geschichte der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung, vol. 1. Berlin, 1966.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.