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Wilhelm Liebknecht on Elections to Parliament as a Means of Agitation (May 31, 1869)

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I shall now discuss the question: is it the duty of the democracy to send delegates to the “Reichstag” at all? The question of whether we shall vote or not, once the universal suffrage has been attained, is merely a question of expediency, not a question of principle. We have a right to vote – the fact that this right has been refused us does not deprive us of our natural right – and if there is any advantage to be gained thereby, let us vote. It is from this point of view that we in Saxony judged the matter when the Reichstag was convoked. Some of us were opposed to the elections, on grounds of expediency, others were in favor of the elections. It was pointed out, by those who opposed the elections, that elections merely emphasized the utter lack of rights on the part of the people; those in favor of the elections said that if the democracy should abstain from them, their opponents would have sole possession of the speaker’s platform, would have the sole right to be heard, and could thus the more readily confuse the people’s sense of justice. This consideration was triumphant – we decided to take part in the elections. My personal view was that the representatives elected by us should simply enter the “Reichstag”, deliver their protest, and then march right out again, without, however, resigning their mandates. This view of mine remained that of the minority; it was decided that the representatives of the democracy should make use of every opportunity that seemed practical, to make felt in the “Reichstag” their standpoint of negation and protest, but that they should refrain from taking part in the actual parliamentary transactions, because this would be equivalent to a recognition of the North German Alliance and the Bismarckian policy, and could only deceive the people with regard to the fact that the struggle in the “Reichstag” is merely a sham struggle, merely a comedy. This is the line we actually followed in the first and second sessions of the “Reichstag”. In the discussion of the “Gewerbeordnung”, which constituted the principal subject of the present session, some of my party comrades considered it necessary, in the interests of the workers and for purposes of propaganda, to make an exception; I was opposed to this step. The Social-Democratic Party must not, under any circumstances, or in any field, engage in transactions with its opponents. We can only transact business where there is a common basis. To do business with those who are your opponents in principle is equivalent to a sacrifice of principle. Principles are indivisible; they are either clung to in their entirety or sacrificed in their entirety. The slightest concession in matters of principle is a relinquishing of the principle. He who parliamentarizes with the enemy is fencing in the air; he who parliamentarizes compromises. [ . . . ]

If the Social Democracy now commits the same error as the Fortschrittspartei committed six years ago, the same cause will inevitably produce the same effect.

But, altogether apart from the matter of a political point of view only, a participation by our party in the parliamentary debates cannot have the slightest practical result.

No one will pretend to say that there is any possibility, in view of the composition of the “Reichstag”, of presenting motions that are important in principle, from our point of view; I think you will concede this at the outset.

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