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

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“But,” one of you may say, “we have the best opportunity in the Reichstag to expound the principles of the Social-Democracy.” No doubt we have an opportunity, but I very much doubt whether it is the best opportunity or even a good one.

Do you believe that the “Reichstag” will permit us to use its speaker’s platform as a pulpit? Let us assume that a Karl Marx should desire to deliver to the delegates a series of theoretical lectures; how long and how often do you think they would listen to him? Perhaps once, through curiosity, but never a second time.

There is no possibility of our having an influence on legislation, as I have just said; –then tell me, in heaven’s name, what would be the use of a presentation of our principles in the “Reichstag”? Do you think you would convert the members of the “Reichstag”? Merely to think of such a possibility would be more than childish, it would be infantile.

It will be just as useful to preach our principles to the waves of the sea – and not quite so ridiculous. Men like Braun* and his followers know very well what we are after. As far as they are concerned, in fact, as far as any of the ruling class are concerned, who now constitute almost the entire membership of the Reichstag, socialism is now no longer a question of theory, but a question of power, a question of the type of those that are fought out not in parliaments, but in the streets, on the battlefield, like any other question of power.

“Yes, indeed, we do not have in mind any influencing of the ‘Reichstag’ itself; all that we desire is to use the speaker’s platform of the ‘Reichstag’ for the purpose of addressing the people on the outside.”

So far, so good. Even I have made use of the speaker’s platform of the “Reichstag” in my day for this purpose and shall again make such use of it in due time. But is this the best place for such theoretical discussions? It is forbidden to read one’s speech in the Reichstag, and you will all agree with me that even the most skilled orator – even assuming a condition not present in the “Reichstag”, namely, that he is given silence and attention – would not be capable of delivering a piece of learned criticism from memory and dictating it in as good form to the stenographer as he could write it at home, seated at his desk.

“But he would be able to state many things in the ‘Reichstag’ which he would not be permitted to state elsewhere.”

That is untrue. It is true that I can make in the “Reichstag” attacks on the present political order of things that would not pass unpunished in any other meeting anywhere in Prussia, but as far as social matters are concerned, particularly from the point of view of theory, there is nothing that cannot be said elsewhere with just as great impunity as in the Reichstag. And why should we fear to take up the struggle with the laws? The fact is that far more revolutionary things are being written and spoken in Prussia every day than can be found in all the speeches on social questions that have ever been heard in the Reichstag.

* Karl Braun (1822-1893) represented the National Liberal Party as a Reichstag deputy from 1871 to 1887 – ed.

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