By Karl Liebknecht
Firstly let us consider some practical-opportunist considerations which exercised a major influence on the attitude of the Reichstag (parliamentary) faction, even though they cannot be regarded as being of decisive importance in determining principled programmatic policies - which, at a more profound level, constitute the only practical policies. However, it is worth taking the trouble to analyse these considerations, given the role which they played and which they continue to play. The argument about the mood of the popular masses can be dealt with in a couple of sentences. Who knew and who knows this mood? The roaring, screaming, raging crowd which filled the streets and which tore the clothes off and attacked anyone who was or appeared to be foreign - this crowd must be a matter of revulsion, not an example, for every social democrat. No freedom of the press, no meetings, no opportunity to come into contact with the people!
But even if the great majority of the people demanded approval of the war credits: social democracy will certainly always take appropriate account of such mass moods, examine them, and learn from them - but it will not follow them uncritically.
Social democracy has to be the leader of the masses, not led by them, and has never been of the opinion that it could serve its ideals by yielding and adapting to the instincts of the masses. It grew in struggle with the instincts of the masses, and even today it is a party of the minority of the people. It has the role of representing the interests of the masses and bringing the masses to an understanding of their interests so that, thus enlightened, they can pursue the struggle for their interests, freed from the suggestive influences of the ruling classes.
Never were these suggestive influences more damaging to the masses than in the time around August 4; never were they more fateful, never was social democracy more obliged to defy these influences, to adopt a blunt and firm attitude, and to educate the people. No popular mood is less deserving of attention than that condition of artificially produced fervour which is used to justify the approval of war credits.
These patriots, out of fear of the "destruction of the organisations," fail to recognise, because of their wretched opportunism, the essential nature of the workers' movement and the roots of its strength and greatness: a great organisation which is dominated by the spirit of petty calculations and despondency, and by inner weaknesses and uncertainties about its goals - this is not an advantage but a hindrance, a negative quantity.
An organisation of resolute militancy, however small that organisation may be, is a driving, moving force and a positive quantity in all circumstances. An organisation, even one of the most enormous size in terms of membership and resources, which fails at the decisive moment has thereby collapsed.
An opposition combat organisation which happily subordinates itself to the government's guardianship at the decisive moment and which settles down to a cosy existence under a state of emergency has ceased to exist as an opposition combat organisation. What applies to an organisation which abandons even a trace of its revolutionary honour and its socialist spirit in order to preserve or even expand its structures is this: "What does it help if you were to win the entire world, if you were thereby to inflict damage on your soul." The damage is immeasurably greater than that which would have occurred in the event of the destruction of the external structures.
The experience of the anti-socialist laws fervently preaches to us what can make a party indestructible. What has since forced the ruling classes to restrain their fervent desire for the declaration of new sates of emergency? The experience of the anti-socialist laws! The conviction that social democracy, the workers' movement, is something quite different from an external technically completed organisation. The conviction that this external organisation is only the clothing and the home of this movement. With no more than a stroke of a pen the complete and utter destruction of all workers' organisations could be achieved, and could have been achieved in the past, on any day of the week. Child's play for even the most mediocre policeman's mentality. What is it that prevents that from happening if not the concerns that the movement will gain in inner strength in the event of external attack, and that the movement - driven out of the home of its organisation - will pour scorn on its persecutors?
To save the external existence of the organisation at the price of abandoning what it holds most sacred is to throw away the indestructible and to save the destructible. It is to preserve what can be extinguished by a stroke of a pen, and to preserve what even the most fervent opponents will no longer have any interest in destroying.
These patriots out of fear are often at the same time haggler-patriots, patriots of the good hope, of the longing to be rewarded for good behaviour. Not "cannons in exchange for popular rights", no, certainly not - but cannons without anything in return, cannons because of idealism, because of good 100%-genuine patriotism, combined with the secret heartfelt desire for the appropriate political customer's tip. But, for Christ's sake, if there is going to be haggling, then it should all be open and above-board, and you should make sure that no-one pulls a fast one on you. Haggler-politicians who do their business based on the uncertain prospects that one good turn deserves another cut a sorry figure, fearful of straightforward up-front haggling. It must be repeated: if there is going to be haggling, then it should be wholehearted and properly done. You philistines of haggling! You should take as your model the noble Junkers who, for ever and a day, have used war and the danger of war in order to strip, bit by bit, the emperor-by-the-grace-of-God of his political and economic power. They dealt on the basis of a straight exchange, not on the basis of gold and blood in exchange for wait-a-bit-longer.
We have nothing in common with this politics of haggling, and especially not given that it is a matter of a crippled half-hearted haggling, anaemic and devoid of the serious business of bold political immorality. The species of patriots out of fear can emerge in its pure form. But in the patriots of hope and haggling there is always a certain proportion of patriotism out of fear. But this combination is full of contradictions.
Patriotism out of fear is a fateful danger for all prospects of the hoped-for blessing of future benefits. Once fear has proved its value as a factor which helps preserve the state, then it becomes a question of preserving and increasing this opportunity for the future as well. But how? Through a strong and, if possible, ever stronger and stronger state power! They have learnt how to defeat us: with a scrap of paper and printer's ink which declare a state of emergency. Never before was the neck of a goose twisted so quickly. Government terrorism has been victorious - long live government terrorism! The result? The parroting politicians of fear and the clever haggler-politicians who hold out their hand for the customer's tip are left empty-handed and high and dry.
The "politicians of realism" of the latter variety certainly had a lot to say in the decisive discussions in the parliamentary fraction. In the meantime, however, they have already become notably quiet.
As early as September 1914 you could hear in the reactionary press the melody: the German victories are victories of Prussian-German order over lazy indiscipline. Then the crescendo: German militarism, the decried drill, is victorious over popular disorder. And finally fortissimo: triumph of that Prussian peculiarity of the Dreiklassenwahlrecht (limited franchise) over democracy!
Will an apotheosis of Prussian reaction be the final verse of the song? That depends on a lot of circumstances: military and economic developments during the war, the result of the war, and what happens after the war. But it also depends above all on the proletariat, the popular masses themselves, and their attitude. Here alone can we make an impact - in the class struggle. As a gift, the people will receive not a penny, neither now nor after the war.
Today the masses are a tool in the hands of the imperialists, a tool for capitalist purposes. Nothing more, but also nothing less: the most indispensable tool, and a living tool. And such a living tool has the dangerous characteristic that it can revolt against those who are using it. And it will revolt when it has been played around with for too long.
The working masses who depart for the front in a spirit of obedience and self-sacrifice return as different people. And those who remain at home, women and children, have become different, quite fundamentally different. Policies of realism demand that we reinforce this process of change. Preserving and encouraging the spirit of class struggle are the means to achieve this.
The certain disappointment, the inevitable hangover after the intoxicating euphoria, will do the rest to frustrate the plans of the intriguers and the imperialists. The proletariat can secure rights only through struggle. Not conciliation and concessions but redoubled struggle is the slogan of the day.
And should people fall victim, then, as ever, their sacrifice will bear fruit a thousandfold. But the hope of gains without struggle, of a voluntary and generous granting of popular rights just at a time of a state of emergency, of military dictatorship, of the suspension of all popular rights - this hope deserves a place of honour in the museum of political illusions.
Many supporters of these politics of illusions already feel the ground giving way beneath them. Now they are searching for scapegoats. The "troublemakers" are there, as if created for the purpose. But this is just too convenient! Do not count too much on the forgetfulness of the people: months ago, before the troublemakers began with their "mischief", the Prussian intriguers unmasked themselves in the euphoria of victory. There is no hiding this, no chance of burying one's head in the sand. And anyone with an ounce of political common sense could have seen that coming, with all the certainty of a chemical process.
Class struggle is the slogan of the day. Not class struggle only after the war has ended, but class struggle during the war and against the war. If the party does not begin that struggle today, during the war, then after the war there will be those both in the working masses and also in the ranks of their opponents who will not believe in its commitment to struggle. Now it is a matter of standing firm. Only thus can the party achieve credibility for the future, credibility in the eyes of friend and foe alike, credibility in preparation for the decisive tests of the future, credibility which - bought with the sacrifices of today - will make its power all-conquering in the future.
From Collected Speeches and Writings, Volume 8 (August 1914 to April 1916) by Karl Liebknecht.
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