Karl Liebknecht
The Future Belongs to the People

Speech Delivered at the War Meeting of the Prussian Assembly, Tuesday, March 2, 1915

THE Censor forbade the printing of the following speech in Germany It is a clear analysis of the franchise question. Dr. Liebknecht also blames the personal régime and rule of Bureaucracy for the War. According to the Vorwärts reports, when Liebknecht began to speak the Free Conservatives, most of the National Liberals and the Centrum left the chamber in a demonstrative manner.

Present: The Minister of the Interior: Discussion about the Prussian electoral reform, care for those disabled by war, and democratization of external politics.

Taking part in the discussion: Dr. Busse (Cons.), V. Papenheim (Cons.), Dr. v. Zedlitz and Neukirch (Free Cons.), v. Loebell (Secretary of Interior), Dr. Friedberg (Natl. Lib.), Cassel (Progressive People's Party), Dr. Liebknecht (Soc.-Dem.).


Dr. Liebknecht (Social-Democrat): Gentlemen, first I wish to protest against the fact that Russian workingmen are treated differently from the civilians of other enemy countries. Such differential treatment cannot be justified – indeed, must be condemned as sharply as possible.

As to the care to be taken of those disabled by war, I can only support the heart-felt words which came from all parts of this house on this question and echoed in our hearts, that we demand action on this matter without delay and do everything possible to keep these unfortunate people from all need and misery. But I do not wish to mistake what experience teaches us – that we have every right to take words uttered in days such as we are passing through with a great deal of criticism and suspicion. On that account I would not like to throw all the words uttered to-day in the scales as solid weight. We will see if, in the future, deeds will follow.

The great zeal with which this all-important question, which arouses all human emotions, was discussed, has for me a special significance because these debates serve to hide the complete silence of the bourgeois parties on the decisive and important suffrage question. ("Very true" from the Soc.Dem.)

Gentlemen, you can be assured that those who are in the field and the unfortunate invalids in the hospitals will be convinced that everything necessary is done in this important question only when we make it possible for them at the settlement of the question to be guaranteed necessary influence in legislation and administration. (Approval from the Soc.-Dem.) They will not rely on the good will of the ruling parties, and if the good words which were spoken with relation to the care to be taken of the war invalids do not go hand in hand with willingness to give to the mass of the people more rights, to make possible a democratization of Prussia, then they preach to deaf ears even if the words sound so very friendly. ("Very true" from Soc.-Dem.)

Gentlemen, the 27th of February of this year will become a historical day for Prussia. It was a critical day. In the Budget Committee the Minister refused to give any assurance, even of a general nature, about a future suffrage reform; and to-day also we heard nothing about it. The Progressive Party expects, according to the speech delivered by Assemblyman Pachnicke, suffrage reform after the war; they expect at least the secret and the direct vote. The Centrum appeals to its "clear and unmovable" position on the suffrage question, which no one knows (Assemblyman Ströbel, Soc.-Dem., "Very good!"), and explains its present silence by the party truce. The National Liberals put the question of suffrage reform behind the task of winning the war. The Free Conservatives, through Frhr. v. Zedlitz, give a straightforward refusal, which Frhr. v. Zedlitz underlined three times last night in the Post. ("Very true" from the Free Conservatives.) I hear again a "Very true" from the midst of the Free Conservatives, and emphasize it again thus – according to them the war has brought out strong counter-reaction against any democratization and Frhr. v. Zedlitz must surely know it, because he warms himself behind the political stove. He considers the discussion of the election reform as superfluous, a discussion which endangers the party truce and which over-balances the discussions about the Budget; and he scoffs at the idea about a general fraternization on the foundation of the introduction of the suffrage law for the Reichstag in Prussia. ("Hear! hear!" from the Soc.-Dem.) The German Conservative Party was silent and by its silence showed that it approved the provoking refusal of Frhr. v. Zedlitz. ("Very true!" from the Soc.-Dem.) To-day also was this approval repeated in an unmistakable sense.

That clears the situation, gentlemen, – clears it delightfully. Clearness is especially necessary at this time. ("Very true!" from the Soc.-Dem.) It never was so necessary as to-day, when the word "party truce" and the false conceptions of class harmonies, of unity and unanimity of the people and other beautiful descriptive words about a free German people of the future becloud many a mind. Gentlemen, we are glad that this fog was blown away. The naked truth is: In Prussia everything remains as it was before. Gentlemen, on October 22nd of last year our warning with reference to the election reform was received by this house partly with cold silence and partly with indignant murmur. It was astounding to the gentlemen that the representatives of the third class of Prussian helot voters dared, at this time, to raise the demand of the people. The government was silent then. On February 9th the same performance, and now the Committee's deliberations and the debates of to-day which clarify the situation so well! Everything remains as it was before – that is the significance of the day for Prussia. From the papers we already knew that, gentlemen. Already in September, 1914, upon the victory of the German troops, so many swelled up as "German friends of the people." An apotheosis of Militarism, an apotheosis of Monarchism, an apotheosis of the three-class system of voting and of all "Prussian egotism" we found in the reactionary papers, – in the papers not only of the Conservative Parties but even in those of the so-called Liberal Parties. ("Very true!" from the Soc.-Dem.)

Gentlemen, in 1866 it was said: The schoolmaster, the Prussian schoolmaster was victorious. Today it is said: the Prussian system of voting is victorious in this war or will be victorious in this war. ("Very true!" from the Soc.-Dem.)

What progress! It will be said, as it was said The Prussian three-class system of voting was victorious over democracy, – by which Russia is naturally left out of consideration as a good friend of the past and surely as a good friend of the future. The conclusion will be drawn which was drawn in such an open way by Frhr. v. Zedlitz. But I should like to advise you in your own interests not to forget that if this war, especially in the first months, awakened a strong enthusiasm in the German people, you must thank above all the fact that it was to be against Czarism – against the Russian reaction, – ("Very true!" from Soc.-Dem.), against barbarism, unrighteousness; that it was thought to be a struggle for the freedom of Europe. ("Very true!" from the Soc.-Dem.)

And, gentlemen, do not forget the disastrous influence the backward conditions in Prussia and in Germany, which conditions were combated by us, had on the attitude of the Neutrals against Germany in this war! ("Very true!" from the Soc.-Dem.)

Gentlemen, in spite of all the characteristic and true Prussian manifestations since the first months of the war, about which I just spoke, we had even up to now political dreamers. Gentlemen, those will now be enlightened about the situation, wherever they are, and that is of great value. The darkest pessimists were right in their prophecies. These debates have furnished water for our mills. The Conservative parties of this house stand with their old animosity against any democratization. From the Centrum nothing is to be hoped. The National Liberals provide a special chapter. Their ideal with respect to the electoral reform has been long similar to that of Frhr. v. Zedlitz, namely, not democratization, but future plutocratization of the electoral reform. ("Very true!" from the Soc.-Dem.)

So everything is as it was before! The National Liberals put out of their present thoughts the struggle for peoples' rights, because success is to them, as they say, more important. Gentlemen, that is explainable. These gentlemen know, in fact, for what this war is fought. For their electorate this war is such a tremendously important political and economic business that the people's rights, bad or good, have to be retarded. Gentlemen, the mine fields of Briey and Longwy, the mine fields of West Poland, the colonies which promise important profits and some other nice things are really no bad investments for German capital. The people can wait. ("Very true!" from the Soc.-Dem.) And Mr. Pachnicke, the boldest representative of democracy in the bourgeois parties of this house, is already satisfied in advance – sure enough, only for the present, as he says – with the secret and direct vote! But even the moderate optimism of Mr. Pachnicke and Mr. Cassel that a majority is available in this house with reference to that patch-work reform, was very roughly stripped of its mask in the Budget Commission by a conservative interruption. Even here everything shall be as it was before! And even for this patch-work reform Mr. Pachnicke wants to wait until after the war. Gentlemen, we are not so modest. ("Very true!" from the Soc.-Dem.) We see all other classes in the war, and especially through the war, pursue unrestrained and without any compunction their class interests. We know that this war serves or will serve, if it will go according to the desire of the ruling class – the great capitalistic interests – the interest of the ruling classes in a particular way. Shall only the masses of the people wait until after the war? The technical restoration of the law is a trifle. ("Very true!" from the Soc.Dem. )

Gentlemen, do we have any cause to postpone our demand for democratization in a time of martial law, the press censorship, the suspension of the miserable right of assembly, in a time of the darkest reaction, including the spy system in Prussia under the name of Burgfrieden (civic truce) in a form of military dictatorship celebrates its triumph, in a time when the people are more than ever without any rights, in a time when by the war not only the danger to all of the capitalistic economic order is made more striking than ever, but when political pressure lies harder than ever on the people. In such a time, there is no occasion for us to postpone our demands for democratization. ("Very true!" from the Soc. Dem.) Never did the class character of the present society of the Prussian state reveal itself so rude and unmasked as right now. Nor do we have any occasion to postpone our demands for democratization at a time when the dangerous reaction of the inner autocracy upon the external policy shows itself so awful and dangerous, at a time which is really clamoring for the democratization of exterior politics. ("Very true!" from the Soc.-Dem.)

Gentlemen, Mr. Assemblyman Dr. Pachnicke said the war has given new support to the demand for electoral reform. Frhr. v. Zedlitz shouted a shrill denial of these words. ("Hear! Hear!" from the Soc.-Dem.) A word which lighted up the situation as a lightning flash, a word for which I and my friends thank him, a word of redemption which can be a call of alarm for the further interior Prussian-German development. In fact, the war has given new support, not to a patch-work reform in the sense of which Mr. Pachnicke speaks, but to a reform of the Prussian state in body and soul. I mean in equal franchise and administration from below up to the highest ranks. And that not only on account of the warlike attitude of the German people, as Mr. Pachnicke thought. From entirely different grounds. There never before appeared so clearly on the surface the glaring contrast between the heavy duties of the majority of the people and the privileged character of the state and the Administration, as in these days; the contrast between the equal duties as cannon fodder and the political inequalities in the state. ("Very true!" from the Soc.-Dem.)

And further, gentlemen, in half-absolutism, in secret diplomacy, in personal régime and all that, we see one of the most important immediate causes for the breaking out of this war, which of course is conditioned and made possible by international capitalism. ("Very true!" from the Soc.-Dem.)

Gentlemen, if the imperialistic endeavors of high capitalism brought about severe dangers to peace, there is needed more than ever control of the exterior politics by the masses of the people ("Very true!" from the Soc.-Dem.), a control which is denied by the constitution and administration prevailing in Prussia and Germany to-day. I know that the democratization of the exterior policy in other states also, where the democratization of the interior policy has progressed, is much to be desired and our friends in England, our friends in France, to whom we stand as near as ever before, as far as they are conducting Socialistic propaganda ("Very true!" from the Soc.-Dem.), have raised the demand before and also now for greater democratization of international politics. Gentlemen, only democratization can erect a wall against imperialistic and adventurous politics. Gentlemen, the millions of victims who are butchered in this war, are butchered especially because the mass of the people were deprived of any rights in the countries concerned! ("Very true!" from the Soc.-Dem.) All of us, no matter how many differences of opinion may exist now in our small circle, are all agreed that the mass of the people did not want the war in any of the countries concerned. ("Very true!" from the Soc.-Dem.) And if that is true, it follows that a democratic control of exterior politics carried out in all states would have prevented the war. ("Very true!" from the Soc.-Dem.) From that follows the right and duty, especially now when Europe is buried in blood and murder, and sets on fire its culture and the flower of its humanity, to raise the demand for democratization of external politics, which can come only from democratic internal politics which can be nourished in the soil of a state democratic from head to foot. ("Very true!" from the Soc.-Dem.)

Gentlemen, I welcome the destruction of illusions which existed in large circles of the people about the willingness of the ruling classes and the government to grant an equal franchise law. A clear outlook is especially necessary; the mist is now blown away, and this clearness is not preached only – and you should not forget it – to those who are guarding and supporting the Fatherland in their civilian clothes and have experienced the need of these days, but also to those who are standing in the battlefield and who are expecting to hear different news from home, and who, when they read the papers about the debates of the Budget Commission of Saturday and debates of to-day – I am absolutely convinced on this point – will clinch their fists furiously in their pockets and hurl curses at those who awakened in them hopes and illusions, who deceived them about the truth, – namely that this war is not carried on for the mass of the German people; about the truth, that the mass of the people will be left after the war without rights, as they were before the war, unless they look out for their rights themselves.

Gentlemen, the war preaches with a brazen tongue the necessity for Democracy; and to you all, who think that you can rebuke in such a sharp way the demands of the people, the idea must emerge, through the shell of your careless hostility and provoking and people-betraying demonstrations, that the interior political conditions of Germany will form themselves even now during the war.

Gentlemen, the proletariat is in exactly the same position as the poor starving wretch of the old tragicomedy, who, dressed in distinguished garments, for one day of illusions, pretended to be a prince. After the present revelations, the dream, the hero dream that every one is to be recognized as a free German citizen, as an equal German citizen, this dream will vanish even to the last illusionist, – he will awaken from the illusion of this monstrous three-fourths of a year. He will get sober, and full of bitterness, draw conclusions for his political attitude even during the war.

Gentlemen, the only salvation for the mass of the people is the struggle that has not changed to-day from yesterday. Not by yielding and not by adapting itself to conditions, and not by submissiveness, but only in struggle will the people find its right. (Assemblyman Hoffman, Soc.-Dem., "Very true!")

The class struggle alone is the salvation of the proletariat and we hope that we will carry on very soon the class struggle in open international intercourse with the proletariat of all countries, even with those with whom we are at war. In this international class struggle rests not only hope for the democratization, for the political and economic emancipation, of the working class, but also the one hope for the mass of the people concerned even during the war. Their one prospect and hope for the termination of the horrible killing of peoples is in the struggle for a peace in a socialistic sense.

Gentlemen, the equal franchise you rudely denied for the duration of the war. Even after the war you don't want to grant such franchise. Laughable patch-work reform is all that one of you, the representative of the influential Progressive Party (Fortschritlichen Volkspartei), expects at the most; the majority says even here "No." Gentlemen, that means to the mass of the people the fist! ("Very true!" from the Soc.-Dem.) Against that I place the cry: away with the hypocrisy of the Burgfrieden (civil truce)! Forward to the class struggle! Forward to the international class struggle for the emancipation of the working class and against the war! ("Bravo!"from the Soc.-Dem.)

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