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August Bebel, Reichstag Speech (November 8, 1871)

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So it is not concern about jurisdiction that moves me to vote against the current motion, but different reasons, Gentlemen – fundamental and material ones. The article as proposed here states “that every federal state must have a parliament based on general elections.” This motion is formulated so vaguely that it can be interpreted in all sorts of ways. There is no mention of the type of foundation upon which this constitution is supposed to be based; whether certain basic rights are to be included; according to which electoral law the parliament is to be convened; whether a First Chamber, a House of Lords, or whatever you wish to call such a reactionary assembly, shall exist or not. Gentlemen! Of course the latter is the most natural thing in the world, for in Germany such institutions exist everywhere. And provided your motion will really meet with approval in the Federal Council, which I rather doubt, you don’t really believe that the government of Mecklenburg will lead the other governments to liberalism once the motion has passed. Gentlemen, should the Mecklenburgers actually get a so-called “modern” constitutional setup according to a genuine German, Prussian, small-state model, will they actually be brought that many steps further towards civilization? In my opinion, they will not have advanced even a hair. After all, Gentlemen, if you create a First Chamber; if you formulate an electoral law approximately resembling the three-class franchise in Prussia – which according to the Reich Chancellor’s remark during the first session of the constituent Reichstag is “the most dreadful and wretched electoral law possible” – how, Gentlemen, will Mecklenburgers have been changed for the better? Who is being represented on the basis of such an electoral law? The bourgeoisie, the propertied class, yes; but the common people are being completely excluded from the elections. Back in the Reichstag, the Reich Chancellor used the expression “the most dreadful and wretched electoral law possible,” but he has already been operating with it for five years and has not introduced a new one; moreover, the gentlemen on the left, who co-sponsored the current bill, have also not thought of introducing in the Prussian parliament any motion for a law establishing universal, direct, and secret elections.

Bebel then calculates that under the Saxon census franchise only about 1/3 of the adult male population is eligible to vote, while only a few thousand can be elected. Therefore, voter turnout is low so that the Saxon parliament is elected by only four to five percent of the population.

These four to five percent make laws for the people and speak on its behalf – and that is supposed to be a representative body of the people? No, Gentlemen, [ . . . ] it is fraud if the people are represented and laws are supposed to be made in this way. [Great agitation and laughter.]

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