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

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But the Reichstag is the child of the universal suffrage; the universal suffrage is the will of the people, and as democrats we must respect the will of the people and – consequently – we must respect also the “Reichstag”.

In this reasoning, which is rather frequently met with, we may discern that unintelligent overestimate of the universal suffrage which, based for the most part on the authority of Ferdinand Lassalle, has recently developed into a veritable idolatry. Particularly in Northern Germany, many persons seem to consider the universal suffrage as the wonderworking root which will enable the “disinherited” to force the gates of the national authority; these persons are under the delusion that they will be able to drag themselves out of the social misery, although they are surrounded by the state of the police and the soldiery, with the aid of the universal suffrage, just as Münchausen once dragged himself out of the morass by his pigtail. You should have Münchausen’s queue hanging down from the back of your head.

To be sure, the universal suffrage is a general privilege of the entire people, a fundamental condition of the democratic state. But when isolated, when detached from the liberty of citizens, when unsupported by freedom of the press and freedom of associations, when subjected to the domination of the sword of the police and the sword of the soldiers – in a word, in the absolutist state, the universal suffrage can be nothing more nor less than a plaything and a tool of absolutism.

After Louis Napoleon had assassinated the Republic, he proclaimed the universal suffrage.

When Count Bismarck had gained the victory over the Prussian particularist junkers, when he had conquered the liberal bourgeoisie by his “successes” of 1866, and rended Germany asunder, he did precisely what his great prototype had done fifteen years earlier, he proclaimed the universal suffrage.

On both these occasions, the proclamation, the granting of the universal suffrage, was the keystone of the victory of despotism. This should be sufficient to open the eyes of the naïve persons who are so enthusiastic for the gospel of universal suffrage.

We are not concerned here with an examination of the motives of Louis Napoleon in proclaiming the universal suffrage. As for Count Bismarck’s motives, they are quite evident.

The Three-Class Election System, undemocratic and anti-democratic as it is, is in addition anti-feudal in character, since it shifts the center of gravity of parliamentary representation to the possessing classes, who, though they are quite ready to make common cause with absolutism against the workers, against the democracy, are nevertheless – with the exception of the great landed proprietors, enemies of the absolutist state and “liberal” up to a certain point. The liberal Chamber of Deputies (Diet), the product of the Three-Class Election System, was inconvenient to the junker government; that government found it necessary to create a counterweight, and this was found in the universal, direct, and equal suffrage.

Very few persons are to be found in the present-day police state, in the state of mental and military regimentation, who are spiritually and mentally independent. The peasant population alone, which in our country is obliged to obey every whim of the authorities without a will of their own, constitutes fully two-thirds of the whole population of the country.

Count Bismarck was well aware of this fact, and his calculations were not in error. By means of the universal suffrage, he set aside the opposition of the well-to-do classes and created a willing majority in the Reichstag, such as he could never have obtained by means of the Three-Class Election System.

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