The German labor movement as a protagonist of civil society engagement between 1830 and 1880


The project deals with the early German labor movement as a carrier group of civil societal engagement between 1830 and 1880. The analysis uses definitions of civil society being a sphere between the state, the economy and the private as well as describing civil society as being specific “type” of social action. Both definitions will be applied to the object of investigation, namely the “early labor movement”. Normative and analytical elements and notions of the concept of civil society will be linked so as to reveal the varieties and the ambivalence of civil society as an analytic instrument. Therefore, the analysis of the labor movement can be viewed as a test for the bearing capacity of civil society concepts.
Some authors and commentators see the (early) labor movement as a civil society actor “par excellence”. The working class movement actions focussing on emancipation, participation, and autonomous, self-responsible engagement are ideals that are closely linked to the concept of civil society as such. On the other hand, the early labor movement was a class movement, which – at least rhetorically – fought against a “bourgeois society” (bürgerliche Gesellschaft). Tolerance, mutual respect, acceptance of plurality, and non-violent contentions are not necessarily incorporated within the ideology of class conflicts, but they are all basic forms of behavior in a civil society. Thus, the labor movement as a carrier group of civil society is characterized by tensions and ambivalences, which will be explored in this project.
In a further step the project will take a comparative perspective into account and explore in a more general way the relationship between social inequality and civil societal engagement.