Wilhelm Liebknecht 1896

Our Recent Congress

Source: Justice, 15 August 1896, p.4, and 29 August 1896, p.4;
CopyLeft: this text is free of copyright restrictions;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

When the English delegates to the Congress of Zurich invited us to come to London they promised us a good reception and a good Congress. They have kept their word. The reception given us in London was grand and hearty, and the London Congress is the greatest and best Congress we have had since the first Congress of the series in Paris in 1889. The English comrades have worked hard to achieve this result; the immensity of London caused great difficulties, but they were overcome by the brave, self-sacrificing men and women who had undertaken the task of organising this Congress. How they contrived to do it I can hardly understand. It is a wonder they survived the tremendous strain on their powers of working. We cannot thank them enough. They have rendered a great service to the cause of International Socialism.

Yes, the London Congress was the greatest and best we have ever had and the truth is, every preceding Congress had marked the progress of the movement. The Brussels Congress had shown a better representation and delegation than the Paris Congress, the Zurich Congress a better one than the Brussels Congress, and London has had by far the best representation of all. I will only speak of the splendid representation of England, and of the representation of France, which at Zurich was almost unrepresented – on account of the General Election then going on – and which to London had sent its best sons.

The splendid representation of the English working classes was alone sufficient to give the London Congress an exceptional weight and importance. Never before had there been such a representation. Your admirable trade unions, those mighty organisations that for more than a century have been fighting the battles of the class war between Labour and Capital, and the new political organisations dedicated to the same end, all represented by their select champions in one common Congress, that is a spectacle which has not been seen before in England. And this glorious muster of the English working-class movement was only a part of this International Parliament of Labour.

Our enemies scoff at the London Congress because much time was lost in so-called “unfertile” discussions and because the debates were not always orderly. Well, it is not an easy thing to put and keep in working order a national congress, even of bodies so uniquely organised as your English trade unions are, whose annual congresses have sometimes lost two days and more in “sterile” discussions on mere forms and formalities, and have not always been able to get through their whole agenda.

How much more difficult is it to put and keep in working order an international congress, where all languages of the civilised world are spoken, and where by almost all delegates only one language is understood, and where nationalities meet who have not different languages alone, but also different methods for carrying on the Parliamentary business (for motions, amendments, the way of discussing, &c.). Before the next Congress we ought to have a Preliminary Conference, as, for instance, the miners are wont to have before their International Congresses, and to stipulate common rules for debating. As far as things go the Parliamentary guidance of this last Congress has been far better than that of any preceding Congress. Hyndman, Singer, Vandervelde, Vaillant, Sigg have all proved efficient chairmen, each of them knowing more than one language. They have all learned since the last Congress, and I am sure they will all learn for the next Congress. Everything must be learned, and those who aspire to the honour of presiding at our International Congresses have to learn a great deal. They must, in any case, try to have sufficient knowledge of the three Congress languages so that for their presiding work they do not require translators.

The translating business – and of this I know something – has been performed excellently at this Congress. Mrs. Aveling, Mrs. Zetkin, Mr. Smith and the others that helped in this most indispensable and most difficult work, did their best and did it conscientiously. And as there has been a talk of incorrect and partial translating, I use this opportunity to give to that slanderous assertion the most emphatic denial, and I have listened to each and every translation made at this Congress. The only one, who once translated incorrectly, was myself, when I rendered into German Stevenson’s speech of the last day and then acted in the interests of shortness and harmony, and was incorrect only in favour of the speaker.

Altogether, the Congress has done its business admirably well. It has gone through the whole agenda and in all essential questions there has been unanimity. And with regard to the form and the contents of the resolutions accepted, there is no other party, or body of people, who – mutatis mutandis could have done the same. And where is the other party, or body of people, who could have held such a Congress.

The scoffing of our enemies is not sincere. Let them speak of the Congress as having been a failure – they would not try so hard to prove it, if they believed what they said. We cannot wish for anything better than such failures.

Now a word about the Anarchist question. And here I address myself not to our enemies, but to our friends. The admission of Anarchists is not a question of tolerance or individual liberty. If I was at the head of a Government or a State Administration the Anarchists might speak, teach, write, and do, as far as they did not interfere with the liberty and the rights of others, whatever they like. But we are not a Government, and our Congresses are not debating clubs for the discussion of all sorts of opinions. We are a party, a militant party, and the International Congresses are the Parliaments and war councils in which we have to deliberate and to settle the conditions and affairs of the class war we are engaged in. International Social-Democracy, together with all militant working-class organisations, is an organised army, a fighting army. We have to fight the enemy. We cannot allow enemies to enter our army. That would be downright folly, suicidal madness. Let no one say, “The Anarchists are not enemies.” Who says so does not know them, or is fascinated by the magic word “liberty.” I know them, in the Old World and in the New World, and, leaving aside the dreamers and ranters, I have not known one Anarchist yet whose principal aim and business is not, and has not been, to throw mud at our heads and obstacles in our way! The capitalist papers and authorities appreciate this, and in all countries the Anarchists are petted by the bourgeoisie. Did not Andrieux, the French Prefect of Police, cynically confess in his “Memoirs” that he paid the Anarchists out of the secret funds because he thought the only means to resist the Socialist tide was to mix Socialism with Anarchism, to disorganise the workmen through frantic appeals to their passions, and to discredit the Socialist movement by making it responsible for the follies, misdeeds, and crimes of the so-called Anarchists?

There is, in fact, nothing in common between Anarchism and Socialism. Anarchism – if it is not altogether a senseless phrase – has individualism for its basis; that is, the same principle on which capitalist society rests, and therefore it is essentially reactionary, however hysterical may be its shrieks of revolution. And, far from being a new idea, Anarchism is a very old idea, which in all its phases has already been poetically developed by Schiller (in his “Robbers”) 120 years ago – twelve years before the storming of the Bastille – and which has been scientifically developed more than fifty years ago by Max Stirner, in Berlin, compared with whom Bakounin, Proudhon, and the latest day saints of Anarchism are mere pigmies. And Max Stirner, the father of modern Anarchism, has also been the father of German Free Trade. Eugen Richter, the big chief of the “Socialist-killers” and the Don Quixote of Free Trade and All-blessing Capitalism in Germany, is a pupil of Max Stirner, the Anarchist!

A Socialist and working class Congress that admits the Anarchists would as well have to admit Eugen Richter and his Socialist-killing friends in France and England. Certainly, for the capitalist papers, it was a cruel disappointment that we got rid of the Anarchists so quietly, and that we despatched our business without any rows and fights. The honest editors, who, like the brave gentleman at the head of the Daily Telegraph, wanted their Congress reporters to give them lively descriptions of the scenes at the Congress, are, of course, dissatisfied with us. We did not oblige them with the scenes desired, and we got, without scenes, rid of those that wanted to create scenes. Being unable to give satisfaction to all citizens of this world, we try at least to give satisfaction to ourselves and to our friends and fellow fighters. We are even so wicked as to feel a certain satisfaction, when some people are dissatisfied with us.

The greatest advantage of Congresses is to approach the people personally, to destroy misunderstandings, to tighten the bonds of unity and friendship. And this has been done to a large extent by the London Congress.

A propos, talking of misunderstandings, whoever put it into comrade Keir Hardie’s head that the German Socialists were State Socialists, and our French friends, Guesde, Devine, Lafargue, Jaurès, a kind of French Fabians? Nobody has combatted State Socialism more than we German Socialists, nobody has shown more distinctively than I, that State Socialism is really State capitalism! And no Social-Democratic Party of any country has a clearer and more definite Socialist programme than the French Parti Ouvrier, while their soi disant more revolutionary adversaries are in reality nothing but mild trade unionists wrapped in revolutionary anarchistical lion skins. Englishmen have the reputation of being cool critics. I hope our English friends do not allow themselves to be taken in by roaring phrases.

And now I must finish. I wanted to write about some other points, but being still on the wing I have neither the time or the leisure to write an exhaustive article. Only this much will I add, the strength in which the English have mustered at this London Congress has been a most imposing surprise to all my friends, [but] not to me, who during my late journey through England had learned the truth. The strength of English Trade Unionism has been shown to the proletarian world, and the strength of the Social-Democratic movement in England has become evident for the first time to your brethren on the Continent. We know now that the grand army of international Social Democracy has in England a strong and well-disciplined corps d'armée, which is equal to any emergency. The steadiness of purpose, the clearness of view, and the intensity of organisation and discipline shown, especially by the Social-Democratic Federation, are to us a living proof that the nucleus is created round which the English working classes will form in line of battle, worthy of their fathers who initiated the grandest working class rising of modern times – the Chartist movement.

W. Liebknecht
Paris, August 10, 1896.

Our Congress

Whatever else it has done, our Congress has certainly worked a miracle, and is a miracle; it has given satisfaction to everybody – to Social-Democrats, of course, and to our enemies perhaps even more, We have become practical people, and keep our feelings within reasonable bounds. Not so our enemies, who are in the sorry position of Bismarck after his tricks had been found out; nothing will succeed with them. They have ceased to command success, and if good luck brings them a chance fish into their net they are crazy with joy. And now such a big fish! A true Leviathan, this miraculous, miracle-working godsend of a Congress!

Think, we wicked Socialists had met to administer the finishing blow to this best of all possible worlds of capitalism. And, just when all hope seemed gone, we began to make war upon ourselves, and, instead of killing capitalism, our Congress killed Socialism!

Indeed, our enemies have good cause to rejoice, and we are the last to grudge them their innocent pleasure. We can afford to be generous; we are in the position of the tall Irishman who allowed his little wife to beat him; it does them good, and no harm to us. And we are accustomed to it. It is an old game that our enemies play now – to conquer and destroy us in words and on paper, We German Socialists have in this manner been annihilated at least a thousand times, and it has agreed with us remarkably well. You will have had the same experience.

But, joking apart, it is undoubtedly quite phenomenal how unanimous and how uniform the capitalist press all over the world is in its judgment on our Congress. The Congress is a failure; it has not created anything! And this reproach is coming from the organs of that same bourgeoisie which itself has lost all power of social and political creation. What in heaven’s name could we create in our Congress? What could we be expected to create? The empire of Socialism! But we are doing our best to prepare it; and the resolutions of the London Congress have proved that the working classes of all countries are one in thought and sentiment, both with regard to the aim to be pursued and the measures to be taken.

Or were we expected to give the world in a week that peace which the united and disunited statesmen, diplomatists, and other selected spirits of the ruling classes for years and years are in vain trying to secure and to found on a solid basis?

Has the world ever seen a more contemptible and a more ridiculous spectacle than this so-called European Concert, which has not been able to prevent the Armenian, Macedonian, Bulgarian, and Cretan squabbles and outrages, although they would have been prevented by an energetic word spoken in the right moment and place? Has there ever been a more detestable farce than this European Concert, in which everybody tries to cheat and rob everybody, and nobody has the intelligence, or courage to say what he wants?

Why, if the delegates of the International proletarian Congress were already in possession of that power, which they will possess in due time, the London Congress would in a few days, yea, in a few hours, have solved, and solved to the satisfaction of all honest men and women, not only this unspeakable Eastern Question (which has at least had the advantage of having proved the utter incapacity of the great and grand rulers of capitalist society), but also the dozens of other more or less burning questions their ingenious folly has presented us with. Alsace-Lorraine Question, Egyptian Question, Abyssinian Question, Polish Question, France and Italian Question, Irish Question, Magyar and Slavic Question, &c &c.

Not even the most simple functions of State organisation can be exercised by our modern capitalist and soi-disant civilised states. I mean the functions of the policeman, who keeps order and keeps down the robber. There is only one power in Europe now that is barbarous enough not to fear war, and that for robbery’s sake threatens the peace, and that is Russia. But where is the hand which grasps the long finger, though compared with the other powers he, in spite of his bulkiness, is only a miserably weak fellow. Our vaunted statesmen are not even policemen. The brave constable who in your million-peopled town of London watches over the life of the people and regulates the traffic in the streets, is a far more useful man, and far more deserving of the name of statesman, than those hustling, pretentious nonentities who are now at the heads of our governments, and presume to guide the fate of humanity, because, like the grass-hopper of the fable, they sit on the top of the moving chariot.

And as for the Parliaments of the capitalist world, are they performing creative work? What has your English Parliament done during these last long sessions? Nothing, absolutely nothing. And the German Reichstag and the French Chamber of Deputies? Nothing. If we except the failures and the measures for picking the pockets of the working classes, there remains nothing, absolutely nothing. The fact is, in three days’ work our Congress, this parliament of labour, has performed more creative work and laid down more sound ideas than all our official Parliaments put together in their long sessions.

A propos of parliament and parliaments. Our anarchistic and “Revolutionary” enemies do not get tired with scoffing at our parliamentarism, which they pretend to consider as the most cowardly system, excluding revolutionary action and feeling. Well, these “Revolutionists” apparently do not know that the two most really revolutionary bodies known in history have been parliamentary bodies. The English Parliament which destroyed the Divine Right Monarchy of Charles the First, and the French Convention that sent the Divine Right Monarchy of Louis the Sixteenth to the scaffold.

There must be some kind of representation, some organisation, that embodies the centralised power and thought of the people. Direct legislation and action through the people is a practical impossibility in States containing many millions of citizens. The utmost that can be done to guard the citizen’s rights is, as our Congress has resolved, the legislative Initiative and the Referendum.

This outcry against parliamentarism is something very silly. I for my own part have never been an eager Parliamentarian. I have no taste for it, and in the 25 or 26 years I have been in the Reichstag and in the Saxon Landtag I have not made half as many speeches as the great anti-Parliamentarian Nieuwenhuis made in the two or three years he was a member of the Dutch “General States.” If I had revelled so much in parliamentarism as he has, I would perhaps be as sick of it as he is. Happily I was not so intemperate. And I know by experience that a good speech made in the Reichstag or any other Parliament has more propagandist effect than the same speech, and even a much better speech, made at a public meeting. The former is communicated to the whole nation, the latter but to a comparatively small part of the nation. And if we were voluntarily to deprive ourselves of such a mighty means of propaganda we should be fit for the mad house.

To be sure, parliamentarism has been corrupted by capitalism. But has capitalism not corrupted everything it touches? Has it not corrupted art and science? Are we, therefore, to condemn art and science? Stuff and nonsense. Hollow, thoughtless phrases have always been the curse of popular movements.

There must be some kind of representation. And how else can we carry on deliberations than by delegates or deputies elected, and by Parliamentary forms. Millions cannot assemble in one hall, and if there is not to be a tumultuous chattering and screaming as of a herd of geese, there must be some regulation.

And, whoever has palmed on our friend Keir Hardie the dismal fib, that Parliamentary – “Parlementer” was composed of the two words parler – to talk, and mentir to lie? It looks rather Dutch.

Poor Burns! I pity him. There has been an International Workingmen’s Congress, the greatest that has ever been, and it has been sitting and has fulfilled its task without John Burns! Unpardonable crime, which deserves punishment!

It is not easy for a man to stand alone against society, and it is not easy for a party. To enjoy the favour and graces of those who have the monopoly of wealth and all that wealth can procure, is certainly much more agreeable than to stand alone with the poor and oppressed, who are nobodies and count for nothing.

I know John Burns too well – I saw and knew him at his best – I know him too well to think him capable of being bribed. Oh, no! And yet, when I saw his portrait at the Berlin Exhibition of Painters a few years ago, his portrait painted by a fashionable painter, admired by fashionable society, it gave me a pang, and I thought, poor John! they have caught you in their flower-covered nets. “Vous m'etouffez sous des roses.” “You stifle me under roses,” sighed poor octogenarian Voltaire, when the Parisians threw avalanches of flowers at him, the returning triumphant exile.

There are more men and better men stifled by flowers than by the garotte and the hangman’s rope.

Poor John!

But let us see what John Burns in his letter to the Figaro advised us to do: “Those German, French, Belgian, Austrian delegates who wanted to avoid a fiasco (un echec) ought to have come to an understanding with the British trade unionists, arranged a new Congress, eliminating the Anarchists, the Social-Democratic Federation, the too zealous Independent Labour Party, the dreamers, and the dregs (la lie) of Democracy.” I hardly trusted my eyes when I read this. That means we ought to have excluded the English Social-Democracy from the English and International Working Class Movement! Working class movement without Social-Democracy – the old ideal of Bismarck, of Crispi, of Napoleon le Petit, of all cesarean papist demagogues, who try to use the social question for their criminal ends. And the man who writes to the most bourgeois of French bourgeois papers this outrageous libel on Social – Democracy and the working classes, is the same John Burns who was for many years considered the organiser and chief of English Social-Democracy.

Poor John!

Before I conclude, a few remarks still to clear up some misunderstandings and to refute some attacks. Singer and I, we have been called dictatorial, the other German delegates, authoritarian and despotic. And why? Because we do not want to discuss with people who have no more right to sit in a Socialist Congress than the Czar of Russia or Rothschild. We want work and business – no ranting, and no scenes. The Congress has, after having got rid of the Anarchistic tools of the bourgeoisie, given its sanction to our view, by accepting the proposal of the Bureau concerning the next Congress. In the next Congress we shall not lose any time with the Anarchist question. And there will be no time lost in verifying the credentials, So we shall have a saving of three days, and all time can be devoted to work and business.

And as to our being dictatorial and despotic. Is it dictatorial and despotic to keep order and discipline? Is discipline anything oppressive? Is it opposed to Social-Democracy? A Socialist Party without discipline would be a mob; a militant army it can only become through discipline, which does not mean putting one individual under another individual, but putting all individuals under the common cause. Without discipline, no army; without discipline, no victory!

The Germans – some anonymous scribes have written – did bully the Congress! Bullied! They have spoken less and given the Congress less trouble than any other nation. And, certainly, they have made the least noise. Or is it bullying to know what one is about? The German Socialists knew what they were about – that is true. All questions that roused passions in the Congress have been settled by us long ago, and so we had no reason to talk much. We are only glad that all nations have now come to the same conclusions as we.

The resolution by which the Congress sanctioned the splitting of the French delegation into two fractions has been much blamed. However, it had become necessary. The Parti Ouvrier, which represents nine-tenths of the French movement, had been put in a minority in the Congress by Italians (Malatesta) and other Anarchists, and by the representatives of small sections, who in France have no significance whatever. And the Parti Ouvrier could, of course, not allow itself to be altogether extinguished in the Congress. They had resolved to leave the Congress, unless it acknowledged their right to form an independent section. This was done as an exceptional measure, made necessary by exceptional circumstances. Vandervelde’s fear, that it might be repeated, is really unfounded.

And unfounded is the reproach that it was a mockery that the vote in favour of the scission was taken by nationalities. How else was it to be taken? It is indeed no ideal state of things that a nationality represented by one delegate has the same voting power as a nationality represented by dozens and hundreds of delegates. But I do not see that any injustice has been committed by this way of taking the vote. And this, or some other contrivance, is required to prevent the still more glaring and monstrous injustice of one nationality being able to outvote all other nationalities, as the 495 English delegates could have done any moment, had we not had the counterpoise of the vote by nationalities.

The next Congress will settle this question, and whatever questions more there may exist still or will be raised till then. The next Congress has a clear road before it, and no enemies in its ranks.

Au revoir till the next Congress!

W. Liebknecht
Offenbach (Germany), August 17.