W. Liebknecht

To My Friends in England


Written: 25 March 1899.
Published: Justice, 25 March 1899, p.4.
Transcribed by: Ted Crawford.
Markup: H. Antonn.


It is always a delicate matter for a Socialist to pronounce publicly an opinion on the state and prospects of our movement in another country where there are Socialist organisations. And my readers will render me the justice that, whenever I have had the honour to address an English meeting, I have avoided most carefully every allusion to internal questions of the English Socialists. But there are exceptions, and, as I am called upon to give my opinion now, I see no reason why I should not do so. Certainly, the meeting of March 8 has been an excellent tactical move and a great success. It was necessary that Socialism asserted itself, and protested against the sham Peace Demonstrations in favour of the cowardly and hypocritical despot who murders liberty in his own States, and who tries to conquer and enslave the world while he is talking of Humanity and Peace. It was necessary to show to the people of England, whom the friends of the Czar tried to beguile, that there is only one Peace Party – Social-Democracy – and that peace in the mouth of Liberal, Radical, or Conservative representatives of capitalism in its different shapes is either a dream or a snare, because capitalism in its whole being means war – is war – war of the classes, war of competition between the individuals in the struggle for life, and war – latent or open – between the nations. Who really wants peace must make war against capitalism. “War against war” is a humbugging phrase if it does not mean war against capitalism. And this war is our war. International Socialism that strives to overthrow international capitalism, to which we owe the present era of militarism – permanent war – fear or danger of war, and that murderous invention of lying diplomacy – armed peace – international Socialism alone can bring us peace, and international Social-Democracy alone is entitled to the name of Peace Party.

That has been said at that grand meeting of March 8, ants the people of London have heard it and have approved of it.

It was a grand meeting indeed, and never in my life shall I forget the enthusiasm with which the meeting received the sentiments of universal brotherhood, and never shall I forget the imposing majestic unanimity of those thousands for our Socialist resolution. And those thousands, they certainly were not idle bourgeois brought there by mere curiosity. They were almost exclusively – and I am a judge in that matter – men and women of the people, working men and women.

And Socialists all of them. Not all belonging to the same organisation, for unfortunately you have not yet unity of organisation in England, but all united in the one thought of International Socialism and International Brotherhood. Where there is such unity of thought, and of feeling, unity of organisation cannot be far off. And no doubt the Peace meeting of March 8 has been a Peace meeting also for English Social-Democracy. On the platform, and in the body of the big hall, there were members of the Social-Democratic Federation, members of the Independent Labour Party, members of trade anions, few men and women, I daresay, who did not belong to some organisation, and they were all filled with the same thought, with the same feeling – no jealousy, no remembrance of old feuds, only Socialist thoughts and fraternal feeling.

How is it possible to preach peace and goodwill to mankind and not to wish for peace at home amongst the workers in the same cause? How is it possible to ask the proletarians of all countries “to unite” and not to long for being united with the proletarians of the same country who are the nearest? Like charity, unity begins at home. And I have no doubt the memorable meeting of March 8 has done much to bring about that unity of organisation which has become a necessity. And, after the stirring words spoken at the banquet of Thursday, March 9, which was worthy of the grand St. James's Hall meeting – words spoken by the leading men of the Social-Democratic Federation, of the Independent Labour Party, and of trade unionism – I cannot see any serious obstacle in the path of unity.

I do not presume to give you advice. Every country has her own way of development, and the working-class movement in England is different from that of all other countries. The line of your development is exactly the opposite from ours. Your political liberty allowed the development of and organisation for class war before Socialism existed, and your trade unions, those wonderful and incomparable organisations for class war, could be formed before the necessity of political class organisation made itself felt. With us it was just the contrary. Germany is a despotism, with mock constitutionalism. There is the dictature of capitalism represented by junkerdom, militarism, and police. All independent organisations of working men were forbidden – we had no working class movement before the modern Socialist movement, and the absence of political liberty forced upon us the political struggle for life. The political organisation preceded with us the trades organisation, while with you the Socialist movement was preceded by a most powerful trade organisation of the working classes – far more powerful than in any other country.

But, though issuing from different points, we must come to the same end. The working class movement, to be victorious, must be political, and a political working class movement without trade unions lacks the firmness and force required. Trade unionism alone will never be able to change the base and system of society and to put an end to the class legislation and class government of the capitalistic classes. Your last Trade Union Congress has proved that the great majority of the English trade unionists have recognised this, and the utterance of one of the foremost of English trade-unionists at out banquet, bids me hope that the moment is near when the British trade unions will enter the political arena under the Red Flag of International Socialism.

And that will be the most important, the most decisive event of modern history. I compared once the English trade unions to Nasmyth's steam hammer, which can break an egg-shell without hurting the egg, and which can bend like wax or shiver into fragments the mightiest block of steel. They have tried their strength on eggs and egg-shells until now; if they begin to try it on the present political and social system there is nothing that can resist their will and their strength.

And is the time not favourable? Liberalism decaying – no Democracy out of the working classes – what an opportunity!

Never and nowhere has there ever been such a chance for Socialism!

Berlin, March 18.



Last updated on 9.2.2005