Workers Vanguard No. 940

31 July 2009


“No Peace with the Present-Day State!”

We print below excerpts from an 1869 speech by German socialist leader Wilhelm Liebknecht (father of the revolutionary Marxist Karl Liebknecht) attacking the notion that socialists (who at the time called themselves Social Democrats) could get rid of capitalism through parliamentary means.

Let us assume that a candidate comes up for election and that the government is absolutely opposed to having him in the “Reichstag” [parliament]. The government will confiscate the newspapers that advocate his election—it will do so legally; it will confiscate his election handbills—also legally; or it will give permits for meetings of electors and then dissolve them—again legally; it will arrest the candidate’s campaign managers—quite legally; it will arrest the candidate himself—also legally....

But let us assume that the government—either because it feels it is strong enough, or because of some other calculation—makes no use of its powers, and that it becomes possible, as some socialist statesmen of imagination still dream—to elect a social-democratic majority in the “Reichstag”—what would this majority proceed to do? Hic Rhodus, hic salta! Now is the moment for transforming society and the state. The majority will adopt a world-historic decision; the new era is born—don’t you believe it! A company of soldiers will eject the Social-Democratic majority from its stronghold and if these gentlemen make any objection to this procedure, a few policemen will take them to police headquarters and there they will have time enough to ponder the consequences of their Quixotic aspirations.

Revolutions are not made by getting the permission of the high powers that are in authority; the socialist ideal cannot be achieved within the frame of the present-day state; it must overthrow the state in order to secure the possibility of life.

No peace with the present-day state!

— Wilhelm Liebknecht, “The Elections to Parliament Are Only a Means of Agitation” (1869)