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Studies in Socialism/Socialism and the Privileged Classes

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The Socialist party ought not of course to be a confused echo of discordant interests: it must not allow its thought to be troubled or distorted by the chaos of present conditions. It ought to submit a definite platform for the consideration of the people, a definite method of evolving toward a perfectly clear end. But this plan of action must take into full consideration the diversity of elements to be dealt with, their passions, interests, and prejudices. These are Liebknecht's exact words:

“Important as it is to give the freest possible play to all the different groups of interests so that they may be able to express their ideas and their needs, and to allow the people to collaborate in legislation as fully as possible, it would be folly to abandon all legislation to the initiative of the people, folly from the point of view of the government and from that of Socialism as well.

“Socialism should have a definite, easily understood platform, which it should submit to the representatives of the people, and the different representatives of the interests involved.

"Social Democracy differs from all other parties in this, that its activity is not limited to certain aspects of the life of the State and social life, but that it embraces all aspects equally and tries to bring about order, peace, and harmony by reconciling the antagonistic forces in the State and in society.

"It is not the party of the great landed proprietors and the feudal interests, and, therefore, it is not, like the Conservative party, constrained to serve the interests of the great and small landowners. It is not the party of the different branches of the bourgeoisie and consequently it is not, like the National Liberals and the Progressives, bound to serve the particular interests and cater to the love of power of the bourgeoisie.

"It is not the party of the priest caste, and it is not therefore bound to further the interests and cater to the love of power of the priest caste, as in the Catholic Centre and the Protestant faction of Social Christianity à la Stocker.

"It is the party of all the people with the exception of two hundred thousand great proprietors, small proprietors, bourgeois, and priests.

"It ought, then, to turn toward the people, and as soon as the occasion arises, by practical proposals and projects of legislation of general interest, to give positive proof that the good of the people is its only aim, the will of the people its only rule.

"It must follow the path of legislation without injuring any one, but with a firm purpose and an unchangeable ideal.

"Even those who now enjoy privileges and monopolies ought to be made to understand that we do not propose to adopt any violent or sudden measures against those whose position is now sanctioned by law, and that we are resolved, in the interests of a peaceful and harmonious evolution, to bring about the transition from legal injustice to legal justice with the greatest possible consideration for the individuals who are now privileged monopolists.

"We recognise that it would be unjust to hold those who have built up a privileged situation for themselves on the basis of bad legislation personally responsible for that bad legislation, and to punish them personally.

"We especially state that in our opinion it is the duty of the State to give an indemnity to those whose interests will be injured by the necessary abolition of laws contrary to the common good in so far as this indemnity is consistent with the interests of the nation as a whole.

"We have a higher conception of the duty of the State toward the individual than our adversaries have, and we shall not lower it, even if we are dealing with our adversaries."

I do not quote these splendid words with the idea of covering my own Socialist policy with the mantle of a revolutionary authority. The Socialist party would be very contemptible and very cowardly if each one of us did not express his own thought without any more support than that furnished by reason alone.

No, we do not need to seek the authority or protection of any one in our effort to find the most convenient road, the broadest, clearest, pleasantest, and quickest way of reaching our goal. We make our effort openly, and the proletariat joins with us.

And to tell the truth, I think that in Liebknecht's own mind these ideas, at once so noble and so practical, were counteracted and clouded by too many different or even contrary theories to be able to exert a profound and useful influence. I think the time has come to ponder them seriously, and to make them the very foundation of our policy and our theory, instead of only a brilliant side-issue. I think that if the Socialist party refused to allow these thoughts to remain general formulas, if it embodied them in a political platform of broad and just evolution toward a well defined Communism, if it gave the impression of being at once generous and practical, ardent and the friend of peace, firm in its opposition to unjust institutions and decided in its resolution to do away with them methodically, and conciliatory, too, toward individuals, it would hasten the true Social Revolution by fifty years, the Revolution that will be embodied in conditions, in laws, and in our hearts; and it would free the great work of proletarian Revolution from the sickening and cruel odour of blood, of murder, and of hate which still clings to the bourgeois Revolution.


But before I leave Liebknecht, I want to quote a few more fragments which show the same high-minded, broadly humanitarian attitude, the same desire for a just and peaceful evolution.

"In our work of propaganda, as in our legislative action, we must never lose sight of the universality of the Socialist conception.…

"One side is especially economic, another human and moral, a third political.

"We should give equal weight to these three sides in our propaganda and in our law-making.

"The people should learn by experience that Socialism is not only the regulation of the conditions of labour and of production; that it does not only propose to intervene in the economic functions of the State and of the social organism, but that it aims at the most complete development of the individual and his personality; that it considers education one of the essential duties of the State, and that its conception of a civil and social ideal is that every individual should embody as fully as possible the ideal human qualities.

"The deep significance of Socialism lies in the fact that it unites and fuses the most sublime ideals.

"Without the economic side, the human ideal would remain in the air.

"Without the human side, the economic aim would lack moral consecration.

"The two are indissolubly united.

"There have always been dreamers who have glowed with enthusiasm for the happiness of the human race. But theirs were idle dreams or useless devices, because the material physical means of realising them were lacking. On the contrary, the orderly regulation of economic conditions which Socialism wishes to introduce, and which will insure both an increase in the volume of production and a juster distribution, creates the economic foundation for a human existence in the best sense of the term, the harmonious development of the individual.

"Even the advantages of a common ownership of property and co-operative labour were understood in the past, and the very principles of the Community of Communism were put into practice, but the human ideal that characterises Socialism was lacking and historic Communism is rightly judged to have been on a lower grade of civilisation than our present bourgeois society.

"Socialism presupposes our modern civilisation. It does not go counter to it in any way. Far from being the enemy of civilisation. Socialism wishes to extend it to all humanity, whereas now it is the monopoly of a privileged minority.

"Since Socialism includes in its domain all the life, all the feelings and thoughts of man, it cannot become narrow or exclusive; and this gives it the immense advantage of being able to produce an effect as beneficial as it is harmonious on the whole field of civil and political life."

I add one last quotation showing Liebknecht's care for the details of practical action. Having given several pages to the question of reforms in taxation, he continues:

"Some people may be surprised that we lay so much stress on the question of taxation, since in the Socialist State there will be no question of taxation.

"It is true that if we could pass over to Socialism at one bound, we should not need to concern ourselves with taxation at all, because the funds necessary for public expenses would come from the product of social labour. And in a still further stage of development, when all economic functions would be State concerns, there would be no longer any difference between public and private expenses.

"But we are not going to attain Socialism at one bound. The transition is going on all the time, and the important thing for us, in this explanation, is not to paint a picture of the future—which in any case would be useless labour—but to forecast a practical programme for the intermediate period, to formulate and justify measures that shall be applicable at once, and that will serve as aids to the new Socialist birth."