‘The Eighteenth of March’ (1893) by Wilhelm Liebknecht from Speeches of Wilhelm Liebknecht. Voices of Revolt No. 7. International Publishers, New York. 1928.

‘The Eighteenth of March’ (1893) by Wilhelm Liebknecht from Speeches of Wilhelm Liebknecht. Voices of Revolt No. 7. International Publishers, New York. 1928.

(From a speech delivered in the Reichstag, November 30, 1893, in the discussion of the Imperial Budget.)

The Eighteenth of March is a double holiday — it is a day of remembrances of two great events in the history of the conflict for human freedom, a memorial day which has become an international holiday like the First of May. But there is a difference.

The First of May is the day of our demands.

The Eighteenth of March is concerned primarily with the past, with the mother of the future; it is the day of reminiscences for us Social-Democrats. It is dedicated to the memory of two great insurrections of the people: that of March 18, 1848, and that of March 18, 1871, and it may also serve to commemorate not only these two uprisings but all the other battles and deeds of prowess in the modern struggle for the liberation of nations, which is synonymous with the struggle for the liberation of the working class. And this day is sacred not only to the memory of the struggles but also to the memory of the combatants, of those brave and bold warriors who have sacrificed their lives for the cause of the proletariat and humanity.

And we are not celebrating to-day only the prominent ones among the warriors and blood witnesses of freedom. We do not favor a worship of persons — not even of the dead. And though we may not be so vain as to believe that all who have fought for our cause have performed like services, we nevertheless feel that we must pay equal tribute in honor and recognition to all who have offered and given their lives for our cause.

‘The barricade on Kronenstrasse and Friedrichstrasse in Berlin on March 18, 1848’ by F. G. Nordmann.

On February 24, 1848, the people of Paris, after a struggle lasting for three days, carried off the victory over the “bourgeois kingship of Louis Philippe”[a] who had treacherously defrauded the people of Paris in July, 1830, of the fruits of their victory over the counter-revolution[b] of the rotten, treasonable, Bourbon monarchy by the grace of God and the Cossacks, which had again been reestablished in France by an act of high treason and with the aid of reactionary foreign powers, and had now been plundering France for eighteen years and handing it over to the tender mercies of a voracious and insatiable bourgeoisie. The enrichissez-vous! (“enrich yourselves!”) of the bourgeois minister Guizot[c] had been the program of the government of Louis Philippe. Enrichissez-vous! — and they had enriched themselves, these French parvenus. And the bourgeoisie of all the other countries regarded Louis Philippe as the ideal of a most perfect statesmanship; and the aristocracy which was longing for a restoration of a medieval, feudal, robber-knight policy, recognized the services of the modern bourgeois robber-knight policy — it gulped down its hatred for the bourgeois-royal “upstart” and vied with the bourgeois predatory rabble in its depredations. And now the bourgeois king had been overthrown; his throne had been burned by the people before the Column of July on the Place of the Bastille. The people of Paris, the working classes, the deceived victors of the July Revolution, the victims of the bourgeois-royal robber-knight policy — they now had their revenge. Monarchic and reactionary Europe quaked to its foundations.

The severest quakes were felt in Germany and Austria. The people, rejoicing, had their eyes on France; rejoicing, they believed it was the outbreak of a new era of liberty and human fraternity. Suppressed hopes ventured forth and expanded into demands for bourgeois liberty. Bourgeois liberty — for there was as yet no class consciousness, the necessary presuppositions for an economic evolution being not yet present. The general hatred was directed against the Bundestag, this deformed child of the Congress of Vienna;[d] there was a general enthusiasm in favor of a “united, free Germany” without much mental clarity as to ways and means. The bourgeoisie was only beginning to grow; the distinction between the middle classes and the working classes had not yet been drawn.

And now a hole had been shot into the “order” of ancient Europe — the revolution, buried for eighteen years, had again come to life,— on March 18, Vienna rose in rebellion.

Funeral for the March dead on March 22, 1848. Berlin.

It was now the turn for Berlin.

Berlin had begun to ferment and boil at the moment when the revolutionary tidings had arrived from Paris. The news from Vienna encouraged the people, intimidated the government. The king granted the convocation of the united Landtag, on which the liberal bourgeoisie of that day placed great hopes — and also abolished the censorship. The “Royal Patent” which convoked the Landtag appeared on March 18. There was great jubilation. Note the date! In the afternoon thousands of persons moved toward the palace to thank the king. Suddenly, mounted dragoons forced their way into the crowd, and a detachment of soldiers with bayonets lowered advanced from the palace. There are shots and hits. Who had given the order? The voice of the people named the man — our so-called historians have been working for forty-two years to conceal him.

The scattering crowds were filled with panic terror.

“We are betrayed”, was the word in Berlin, as it had been in Paris four weeks before, when shots were fired from Guizot’s mansion owing to a “misunderstanding”. Here also they said it was a “misunderstanding”. But the answer was “Treachery! To arms! to arms!” and Berlin rose in rebellion; barricades grew like mushrooms. They were attacked bitterly, defended heroically. Berlin fought; it fought all afternoon and all through the night. There has never been braver fighting in any street battle.

And then the inevitable occurred. On the one side, there was no goal, no unity; on the other side there was a plan, and a gradual increase of courage. The bourgeoisie recoiled from its own deeds; it did not trust the workers; the workers had yet no class-consciousness, no program. The reaction became bolder and bolder and on November 9 of this “mad” year, on the very day on which Robert Blum[e] was executed by a firing squad at the Brigittenau in Vienna, General Wrangel[f] marched into Berlin and dispersed the National Assembly.

The curtain has gone down. There follows an interlude of disgrace and shame, but a new idea, a new ideal forces its way up between the disgrace and the shame — promising new life, a new birth — the curtain rises on the next act. It is again the Eighteenth of March. Twenty-three years have passed. In Germany, the policy of blood and iron has been victorious; the “question of German unity” has been solved from the dynastic standpoint; it has been solved from above instead of from below. The House of Hohenzollern has thrown the House of Hapsburg out of Germany and has gained the imperial crown on the blood-soaked fields of France. France has been overthrown: the German troops are still before Paris, although the war is over. They are the allies of the French bourgeois government which is afraid of the Paris proletariat and would be glad to exterminate the republic which has been established contrary to all expectations after the collapse of the Napoleonic empire at Sedan, with the aid of Germans, foreigners. These bourgeois gentlemen are so “patriotic”!

Paris was the obstacle. Paris must be disarmed, i.e., the working people of Paris who had secured weapons and set up a military organization during the siege. The Paris workers did not give up their arms; they sent home the emissaries of the bourgeois government with bloody heads. That was March 18, 1871.

A few days later, the Commune was proclaimed. It lived and fought for two months. There was not a day without its struggle. The German victors delivered a daily increasing army to the conquered French Government by gradually liberating its prisoners of war, an army to be used against the socialist workers. The Commune was alone, without support. It was left in the lurch by the rest of France. French peasants and petty middle class circles still considered socialism as the “red peril”.

I cannot even attempt on this occasion to give so much as an outline of the history of the Commune.

To put the matter briefly, the outcome of the unequal struggle was evident from the outset. After two months of struggle, the Commune succumbed in the “bloody May week”. Although the Commune had not shed the blood of a single foe, except in honorable battle — the execution of Generals Leconte and Thomas by a firing squad took place before the days of the Commune, that of the hostages after its conclusion — the victors acted so barbarously as to reveal the entire brutality of their entire civilization. Thousands and thousands of defenseless prisoners were slaughtered after the battle, and after the military courts had harried for months, thousands and thousands of persons were sent to prison for many years, or to the “dry guillotine”, to Devil’s Island, in New Caledonia.[g]

And, not content with slaughtering the conquered workers, it has attempted to assassinate even the memory of the vanquished by means of grotesque lies and misrepresentations.

Vain effort! The workers of all lands knew that the vanquished, the calumniated, were flesh of their flesh — they declared themselves to be in solidarity with the Paris workers, and on the grave of the Commune the international proletariat organized its fraternal alliance which no power on earth can destroy.

And from this new Saint Bartholomew’s Day, on which the bourgeoisie imagined it had slaughtered the entire proletarian movement, dates the rise of our party, a rise which fills all the opposing parties with astonishment and horror, and which these parties have not been able to explain to the present day. The Commune was dead, the international Social-Democratic Party set forth on its course of world conquest.


a. Louis Philippe (1773-1850): The “Citizen King” of France; abdicated 1848; died in England.

b. July Revolution: The revolution of 1830, which deposed Charles X and raised Louis Philippe, the “Citizen King,” to the throne.

c. Guizot, Francois Pierre Guillaume (1787-1874): French statesman, historian, and eclectic philosopher; author of History of France, etc.

d. Congress of Vienna (1815): The Congress at which all the monarchs of Europe except Napoleon disposed of the enormous empire that had been torn from him.

e. Blum, Robert (1807-1848): German writer and Socialist leader (born at Cologne); one of the principal leaders in the Vienna uprising of 1848; executed by a firing squad November 9, 1848.

f. Wrangel, Friedrich Heinrich Ernst (1784-1877): Prussian counter-revolutionary general; entered Berlin, November 9, 1848, to put down the popular “excesses” and restore the authority of the monarchy.

g. Devil’s Island: French penal colony off the coast of South America, to which criminals and political prisoners are still sent for life banishment.

Speeches of Wilhelm Liebknecht. Voices of Revolt No. 7. International Publishers, New York. 1928.

Contents: Introduction by Kurt Kersten, The Reichstag Farce (1870), Elections to Parliament are only a Means to Agitation (May 31, 1869), The Battlefield Not the Reichstag in the Final Court of Judgement (December 6, 1870), The Bourgeoisie and its Civilization (February 5, 1872), A Soldier of the Revolution (May, 1872), Speech Intended to be Delivered to the Jurors in the Leipzig Trial for High Treason (March, 1872), First Speech in the German Reichstag (November 21, 1874), Liberty Has Been Outlawed Along With Us (October, 1878), The 18th of March (November 30, 1893), Lese Majeste (October 5, 1895), Not a Man and Not a Penny for this System, We are a Revolutionary Party (1893), Explanatory Notes. 96 pages.

The seventh in the Voices of Revolt series begun by the Communist Party’s International Publishers under the direction of Alexander Trachtenberg in 1927.

PDF of original book: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/parties/cpusa/voices-of-revolt/07-Wilhelm-Liebknecht-VOR-ocr.pdf

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