W. Liebknecht

How It Could Be Done


Written: 1900
Published: Justice, 7 September 1901, p.3.
Transcribed by: Ted Crawford.
Translated from German by: Jacques Bonhomme.
Markup: H. Antonn.

On the anniversary of Liebknecht's death Vorwaerts printed a number of writings of the dead Social-Democratic leader which had never before been published, but which are not without interest to Socialists at the present time.

The first of these fragments is headed, “What should the Socialists do if they obtained sufficient power to influence Parliament?”


This question has been put and I will answer it. But to answer a question properly it should first be clearly stated. Now this question is not clearly stated and is not precise enough. For it is evident that the measures to be adopted will depend particularly on the circumstances in which the Socialist Party shall acquire much influence on the legislature. It is possible, it is even very probable that if Prince Bismarck [this was written in 1880-1885] lives a little longer and remains in power he may have the same end as his model and master, Louis Napoleon. Some catastrophe brought about by him may shatter the State and either put our party in power or at all events some members of our party may be in the Government.

This catastrophe may either be caused by a disastrous war or by as outbreak of discontent which the Government could no longer suppress. If either of these alternatives take place our party will naturally take other steps and will follow other tactics than if it obtained influence by other means.

One may hope, though it is hardly possible, that the danger will be understood by the ruling powers and that they would try by granting intelligent reforms to prevent a catastrophe which would otherwise be inevitable. Under those circumstances our party would necessarily be called upon to take part in the Government and especially to improve the conditions of work. I will not deal with these questions as I only wanted to show that the mode of our action would depend on the circumstances in which we should have obtained “considerable influence”.

But what is meant by “considerable” or “sufficient” influence? Is “exclusive influence” meant? Is it meant that we should apply our principles to the fullest extent, only being limited by the conditions imposed by the economic law? Or, in other words, is it to be understood that we should really be the Government?

Or does it mean that we should be able to influence a Government entirely or partly composed of members of other parties? In that case it is evident that we should not act in the same way as in the first hypothesis.

And, independently of these two hypotheses, there may be many other states in each of which our action would have to be different.

I have now finished dealing with these points from a general point of view. But, before going into points of detail, I will sum up briefly what I have said.

We have seen that we cannot formulate tactics which will apply in all uses. Tactics depend on circumstances. The interests of the party are the only law, the only rule. The aim of the party is constant, though, of course, improvements may be made in the programme, and also it may be necessary at times to modify or to strengthen it. On the other, the method of warfare and the weapons employed are constantly changing. We have also seen that the party must be capable of being organised in the highest degree, and that it is necessary that we should always keep in view the essential principles of our movement, and we must never neglect essentials for non-essentials. The essential is that the principles of Socialism maybe realised as soon as possible in the Stale and in society.

The non-essential is how they shall be realised. Not that I wish to diminish the value of tactics. But tactics are only a means to an end and while the aim is constant and absolute, tactics may always vary. Questions of tactics are practical questions and must carefully be distinguished from questions of principles.

We have seen that it is not justifiable to maintain that force is the only proper revolutionary tactics and that a man need not be called a reactionary if be does not approve those tactics in all cases. We have shown that force itself is not always revolutionary but that it is at times anti-revolutionary. We have shown the necessity of emancipating ourselves from phrases and to seek the force of the party in clear thought, in methodical and intrepid action, and not in violent revolutionary phrases which too often only hide want of clearness and want of action.

We have shown that in order that the Party should be able to realise Socialistic ideas it must be able to obtain the necessary power and that this must be done before all by means of propaganda.

We have shown that those who are driven into the ranks of our enemies by their own interests are so few that they need not be counted in practice, and that the immense majority of our opponents are only those who are ignorant of their own needs and who misunderstand our aims. We ought, therefore, to do all we can to enlighten this majority and to get them on one aide.

We approve the so-called socialistic legislation of Bismarck and especially his legislation on assurance, though it is incomplete. But it contains the great principle of the control of production by the State as opposed to the system of laissez faire of the Manchester school. This right of control by the State makes it look after labour, and the control of social work by the State leads to the organisation of social labour by the State.

All parties, except the Manchester school anarchists, who are in favour of individualism and wish to allow the rich classes to “freely” exploit society, are favourable to the “poor” and the working classes. Prince Bismarck will, therefore, obtain a majority in the Reichstag for his schemes. We need nor, therefore, be astonished if the Protestant and Catholic clergy, if the junkers (petty squires) and the large landowners are in favour of State Socialism, which the clergy call Christian Socialism.

But it is astonishing and unprecedented in the history of our time to see that the National Liberal Party, which, though broken up and weak, is still an essential part of the German middle class and is, in fact, the middle class, is reconciled with State Socialism.

After discussing certain German taxes, Liebknecht says :

Perhaps it will be thought strange that we should attach so much importance to questions of taxation, since in a State organised on a socialistic basis there would be no taxation question.

It is true that if we could jump at once into a Socialist State then we should not require to think about taxes for then the necessary resources for public expenditure could come from social work, or if Socialism was more developed then all economic functions would be State affair, and there would be no difference between public and private expenditure.

But we shall not pass at once into Socialism. The transition takes place gradually, and it is not our duty to draw a picture of the future (which would be useless labour), but to determine a practical programme for the period of transition, to formulate and to justify measures which may be immediately applicable to the present state of society, and may contribute to bring about a better state of things.


Last updated on 9.2.2005