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

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In other words, the universal suffrage was not granted the population as a lever of democracy, but as a weapon in the hands of reaction.

This universal suffrage is completely under the control of the government – even more in our country than in France, where the population has more political training, where it has already passed through three revolutions and is now facing the fourth. It may be asserted with safety that no delegate can be elected in Prussia to the “Reichstag” if the government is seriously opposed to his candidacy. [ . . . ] Let us assume that a candidate comes up for election and that the government is absolutely opposed to having him in the “Reichstag”. The government will confiscate the newspapers that advocate his election – it will do so legally; it will confiscate his election handbills – also legally; or it will give permits for meetings of electors and then dissolve them – again legally; it will arrest the candidate’s campaign managers – quite legally; it will arrest the candidate himself – also legally; did they not arrest recently a delegate to the “Reichstag” and would not that delegate be in prison to this day if the National Liberals had not been convinced by a smile on the part of Bismarck of the harmlessness of the “martyr”?

But let us assume that the government – either because it feels it is strong enough, or because of some other calculation – makes no use of its powers, and that it becomes possible, as some socialist statesmen of imagination still dream—to elect a social-democratic majority in the “Reichstag” – what would this majority proceed to do? Hic Rhodus, hic salta! Now is the moment for transforming society and the state. The majority will adopt a world-historic decision; the new era is born – don’t you believe it! A company of soldiers will eject the Social-Democratic majority from its stronghold and if these gentlemen make any objection to this procedure, a few policemen will take them to police headquarters and there they will have time enough to ponder the consequences of their Quixotic aspirations.

Revolutions are not made by getting the permission of the high powers that are in authority; the socialist ideal cannot be achieved within the frame of the present-day state; it must overthrow the state in order to secure the possibility of life.

No peace with the present-day state!

Away with the worship of the universal and direct suffrage!

Let us take part with all our energy, as we have done thus far, in the elections; but let us use the elections only as a means of agitation, and let us not neglect to point out that the ballot-box can never be the cradle of the democratic state. The universal suffrage will not attain its decisive and final influence on state and society until after the police and soldier state has definitely been eliminated.

[ . . . ]

Source of English translation: The Speeches of Wilhelm Liebknecht, vol. 7, Voices of Revolt. New York: International Publishers, 1928, pp. 16-31.

Source of original German text: Wilhelm Liebknecht, Über die politische Stellung der Sozialdemokratie insbesondere mit Bezug auf den Reichstag. Ein Vortrag, gehalten in einer öffentlichen Versammlung des Demokratischen Arbeitervereins zu Berlin am 31. Mai 1869 [On the Political Position of Social Democracy, Particularly with Respect to the Reichstag. A Lecture Held at an Open Meeting of the Democratic Workers' Association of Berlin on May 31, 1869], 3rd unrev. ed. Leipzig, 1874, pp. 3-16; reprinted in Peter Wende with Inge Schlotzhauer, ed., Politische Reden II. 1869-1914 [Political Speeches II. 1869-1914], Bibliothek der Geschichte und Politik [Library of History and Politics], vol. 25. Frankfurt am Main: Deutscher Klassiker Verlag, 1990, pp. 9-27, here pp. 9-22.

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