Wilhelm Liebknecht

The Spider and the Fly


Source: Progress Publishers, 1972.
Translated: From the German by Dom Danemanis.
HTML Markup: Sally Ryan for marxists.org in December, 2001.
Proofreading: Einde O’Callaghan (January 2011).
Note: this pamphlet by Liebknecht was written for German workers but is based on a well-known children’s story. His tale of the exploiting spider and exploited fly is written at a level that older children can handle. For more about him see Liebknecht’s biographical sketch.

You all know him, that pot-bellied insect with the hairy sticky body, who lurks in dark places, as far as possible from the light of day, and spins his deadly web in which the poor careless or thoughtless Fly is caught and killed. That ugly monster with round glassy eyes and crooked spindly forelegs so handy for seizing and choking his victim is the Spider.

There he is, cold and still, lying in his corner, or fiendishly weaving his deadly thread to trap and truss the feeble Fly without compunction. The repulsive creature takes pains, often-infinite pains, to perfect his web down to the last thread, so that his prey shall never escape. He will first spin one thread, then two and three – and more and more. He crosses and recrosses the threads so that even in their death throes his victims will not tear the web or scarcely make it quiver.

At last the web is ready, the trap is set, there is no escape – the Spider retreats into his lair and waits for an artless Fly, impelled by hunger, to approach in search of food.

He does not have to wait long until the Fly comes by. And as the poor thing is looking here and there, she runs right into the outstretched threads, is terrified, gets tangled up, tries to hold on, and that is the end.

As soon as the Spider sees his victim caught, he leaves his hide-out and slowly advances towards his prey with hungry eyes and grasping tentacles. There is no need to hurry, the awful creature knows full well that once caught the luckless insect cannot escape. He comes nearer and nearer, sizes up his victim with his bulging lackluster eyes and drives it mad. The Fly is atremble with fear as she sees the looming danger, tries to break free from the sticky threads, tries hard to escape, and is exhausting herself in her desperate attempts.

But her efforts are wasted, her exertions in vain. She gets more and more entangled in the web, and the Spider comes closer and closer. She finds herself entwined by more and more threads, enmeshed in more and more nets with every movement she makes to extricate herself from the cobweb, whose slender yet so effective meshes have trapped her. Finally, breathless and exhausted, all resistance gone, she is at the mercy of her enemy, her conqueror, the horrible Spider!

Then the awful creature reaches out his hairy tentacles, seizes and locks the Fly in his deadly embrace. Next, he begins to bite the trembling body of his feeble prey, once, twice, thrice, any number of times, all depending on his lust and appetite. When he has for the moment quenched his thirst for blood, he leaves her half-dead. Then he comes back and sucks once more; he goes back and forth until the luckless Fly is fully devoured, until he has drained her body of all blood and nourishing juices. And it takes a long, often a very long time, before the poor insect is quite dead.

The bloodthirsty vampire will not give up as long as he can detect a flicker of life in his victim’s body. He inhales her life, saps her strength, drinks her blood, and only lets her alone when nothing, nothing at all is left to take.

The poor dead Fly, sucked dry and lighter than a feather, is then cast from the web. The first gust of wind carries her off and all is over.

The Spider, however, returns to his lair, sated and content; he is pleased with himself and the world, happy in the knowledge that decent people are still able to get on in the world.

You, workers of town and country, are the Fly that is sucked dry and killed, the Fly that is devoured and on whose blood others live! You oppressed peoples, you intellectuals, you industrial workers, you trembling young maidens and weak downtrodden women who dare not stand up for your rights, you luckless victims of the war lords, in a word, all of you who are poor and exploited, you who are thrown out when nothing is left to suck from your veins, you who are the producers of all wealth, the heart, the brain, the vital force of the nation, and you who are granted nothing but the right obediently and quietly to die a miserable death in some corner, while your blood, your sweat, your toil, your thoughts, your life are used to make big and strong those who are your bosses and oppressors: the repulsive Spiders.

The Spider is the boss, the moneybags, the exploiter, the speculator, the capitalist, the seducer, the high clergy, the parasite of every sort, the despot under whom we suffer, the maker of the bad, oppressive laws, the tyrant that enslaves us. The Spider is everyone who lives at the people’s expense, who tramples us underfoot, who scoffs at our suffering and our vain efforts.

The Fly is the poor worker who has to submit to all the draconic laws the employer may wish to pass, because the unfortunate man is without means and has to provide for himself and his family. The Spider is the big factory-owner who earns 6 to 8 marks a day on each of his workers, yet dares, nay condescends, mercifully to allow them a starvation wage of 2 to 3 marks for 12 to 14 hours of work.

The Fly is the miner who sacrifices his life in the foul air of the pit to extract from the earth treasures he is not to enjoy; the Spider is Mr. Shareholder whose shares double and treble in value, yet who is never satisfied, who wants even higher dividends, who robs the workers of the fruits of their labor, and who, should they dare to demand even the slightest wage increase, calls in the army to give the “mutineers” a taste of shot.

The Fly is the child who at the most tender age has to slave in the factory and workshop, and at home, to help make ends meet; the Spider is not the poor parents whom want compels to sacrifice their children; it is today’s vile conditions which make an iron rule of these perversions of natural feelings, this destruction of one’s own family.

The Fly is the respectable daughter of the people, who seeks to earn an honest living, but cannot find work if she does not submit to the lustful desires of the factory boss or director, who abuses her, and later – often with a child on the way – heartlessly and callously throws her out to avoid a “scandal.” The Spider is the young fop, the idle loafer of a “good” family, who gaily seduces innocent maidens and drags them down to the gutter, who considers it an honor to have dishonored as many young women as possible.

The Fly is you, hard-working ploughman, you who tills the soil for the rich landowner, who sows the grain you do not reap, who grows the food you do not taste. The Spider is the land baron who makes his poor tenants, serfs and day-laborers work without a moment’s respite, so that he himself can lead a life of idleness, ease and splendor, the land baron who raises rents every year and depresses the price of honest work.

The Fly is all of us poor and simple people, who have for ages trembled on the altar steps, who have bowed to the clerical curse, who have fought and enslaved one another for the greater glory and amusement of the Church, who have bent our backs and knees, who have let our oppressors enjoy the fruits of their injustice, because we were spiritually crippled by the enervating influence of their religious teaching. The Spider is the black-frocked priest with his hypocritical and lustful look, who befuddles the simple minds of his flock with his degrading teaching and cultivates a spirit of submissiveness and servitude, which poisons souls and ruins whole nations, as in the case of Poland.

In a word, the Fly is the oppressed, the enslaved, the exploited, while the Spider is the vile speculator or lawless despot by whatever name he goes.

The Spider once used to spin his web from the big castles and manors, today he prefers to establish himself in the big industrial centers, in the rich quarters of the blessed of our time. You find him mostly in the factory towns, though he also nests in the country and in the small towns, he is wherever exploitation flourishes, wherever the worker, the propertyless proletarian, the small craftsman, the day-laborer and the debt-burdened small peasant are mercilessly exposed to the unbridled greed of speculators.

Wherever it may be, in town or country, you will see the poor insects vainly struggling in the web of their enemies; you will see them tiring themselves out, drying up and dying.

What terrible tragedies have been enacted over the centuries in this battle between the weak and timid Fly and the cruel and bloodthirsty Spider! It is a monstrous tale of woe. So why tell it again? What’s past is past, let us speak of the present and the future.

Let us take a closer look at today’s struggle between the Spider and the Fly, let us be aware of the situation as it is, let us Flies realise exactly what traps our enemies are again laying for us, let us see through their tricks and, above all, let us be united, we, who alone are too weak to break the webs that entangle us. Let us break the chains that fetter us, let us drive our enemies from their hide-outs, let us throw the bright light of reason everywhere, so that never again will the vile creature be able to do his murderous handiwork in the dark!

Oh Flies, if you wanted to, if you really wanted to, you could be invincible! True, the Spiders are still strong today, but they are few. Even if you Flies are quite insignificant and without influence, your numbers are legion, you are life itself, you are the world – if you really wanted to. If you only united, you would at one blow of your wings tear apart all the threads, sweep away all the cobwebs that ensnare you today, that make you writhe and die of starvation. You could banish poverty and slavery – if you really wanted to.

So learn to want!

Last updated on 3.1.2011