Rosa Luxemburg

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Rosa Luxemburg, circa 1908

Rosa Luxemburg (Rosalia Luxemburg, Polish: Róża Luksemburg; 5 March 1871[1]  – 15 January 1919) was a Marxist theorist, philosopher, economist and activist of Polish Jewish descent who became a naturalized German citizen. She was successively a member of the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania, the German SPD, the Independent Social Democratic Party and the Communist Party of Germany.

In 1915, after the SPD supported German involvement in World War I, she co-founded, with Karl Liebknecht, the anti-war Spartakusbund (Spartacist League). On 1 January 1919 the Spartacist League became the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). In November 1918, during the German Revolution she founded the Die Rote Fahne (The Red Flag), the central organ of the Spartacist movement.

She regarded the Spartacist uprising of January 1919 in Berlin as a blunder,[2] but supported it after Liebknecht ordered it without her knowledge. When the revolt was crushed by the social democrat government and the Freikorps (WWI veterans defending the Weimar Republic), Luxemburg, Liebknecht and some of their supporters were captured and executed. After their deaths, Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht became martyrs for Marxists. According to the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, commemoration of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht continues to play an important role among the German far-left.[3]





Luxemburg was born to a Jewish family in Zamość, in Russian-controlled Congress Poland. She was the fifth child of timber trader Eliasz Luxemburg and Line Löwenstein. After being bedridden with a hip ailment at the age of five, she was left with a permanent limp.[4]

On her family's moving to Warsaw, Luxemburg attended a Gymnasium from 1880. From 1886 onward, she belonged to the Polish, left-wing Proletariat party (founded in 1882, anticipating the Russian parties by twenty years). She began in politics by organizing a general strike; this resulted in four of its leaders being put to death and the party being disbanded, though remaining members, Luxemburg among them, met in secret. In 1887, she passed her Abitur examinations. After fleeing to Switzerland to escape detention in 1889, she attended Zürich University (as did the socialists Anatoli Lunacharsky and Leo Jogiches), studying philosophy, history, politics, economics, and mathematics. She specialized in Staatswissenschaft (the science of forms of state), the Middle Ages, and economic and stock exchange crises.

In 1893, with Leo Jogiches and Julian Marchlewski (alias Julius Karski), Luxemburg founded the newspaper Sprawa Robotnicza ("The Workers' Cause"), to oppose the nationalist policies of the Polish Socialist Party, believing that only through socialist revolution in Germany, Austria, and Russia could an independent Poland exist. She maintained that the struggle should be against capitalism, and not just for an independent Poland. Her position denying a national right of self-determination under socialism provoked philosophic tension with Vladimir Lenin. She and Leo Jogiches co-founded the Social Democratic Party of the Kingdom of Poland (SDKP) (later Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania [SDKPiL]) by merging with Lithuania's social democratic organization. Despite living in Germany for most of her adult life, Luxemburg was the principal theoretician of the Polish Social Democrats, and led the party in a partnership with Jogiches, its principal organizer.


Before World War I

In 1898 Luxemburg married Gustav Lübeck, obtained German citizenship, and moved to Berlin. There, she was active in the left wing of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), in which she sharply defined the border between her faction and the Revisionism Theory of Eduard Bernstein by attacking him in an 1899 brochure titled Social Reform or Revolution?. Luxemburg's rhetorical skill made her a leading spokeswoman in denouncing the SPD's reformist parliamentary course. She argued that the critical difference between capital and labour could only be countered if the proletariat assumed power and effected revolutionary changes in production methods. She wanted the Revisionists ousted from the SPD. That did not occur, but Karl Kautsky's leadership retained a Marxist influence on its programme.

From 1900 Luxemburg published analyses of contemporary European socio-economic problems in newspapers. Foreseeing war, she vigorously attacked what she saw as German militarism and imperialism. She wanted a general strike to rouse the workers to solidarity and prevent the coming war; the SPD leaders refused, and she broke with Karl Kautsky in 1910. Between 1904 and 1906 she was imprisoned for her political activities on three occasions. In 1907, she went to the Russian Social Democrats' Fifth Party Day in London, where she met V.I. Lenin. At the Second International (Socialist) Congress, in Stuttgart, she moved a resolution, which was accepted, that all European workers' parties should unite in attempting to stop the war.

Luxemburg taught Marxism and economics at the SPD's Berlin training centre. A student of hers, Friedrich Ebert later became SPD leader, and later the Weimar Republic's first President. In 1912 she was the SPD representative at the European Socialists congresses. With French socialist Jean Jaurès, she argued that European workers' parties should effect a general strike when war broke out. In 1913 she told a large meeting: "If they think we are going to lift the weapons of murder against our French and other brethren, then we shall shout: 'We will not do it!'" But in 1914, when nationalist crises in the Balkans erupted to violence and then war, there was no general strike and the SPD majority supported the war — as did the French Socialists. The Reichstag unanimously agreed to financing the war. The SPD voted in favour of that and agreed to a truce (Burgfrieden) with the Imperial government, promising to refrain from any strikes during the war. This led Luxemburg to contemplate suicide: The "revisionism" she had fought since 1899 had triumphed.

In response Luxemburg organised anti-war demonstrations in Frankfurt, calling for conscientious objection to military conscription and the refusal to obey orders. On that account, she was imprisoned for a year for "inciting to disobedience against the authorities' law and order".

During the War

A statue of Rosa Luxemburg, Berlin

In August 1914 Luxemburg, along with Karl Liebknecht, Clara Zetkin, and Franz Mehring, founded the Die Internationale group; it became the Spartacist League in January 1916. They wrote illegal, anti-war pamphlets pseudonymously signed "Spartacus" (after the slave-liberating Thracian gladiator who opposed the Romans); Luxemburg's pseudonym was "Junius" (after Lucius Junius Brutus, founder of the Roman Republic).

The Spartacist League vehemently rejected the SPD's support for the war, trying to lead Germany's proletariat to an anti-war general strike. As a result, in June 1916 Luxemburg was imprisoned for two and a half years, as was Karl Liebknecht. During imprisonment, she was twice relocated, first to Posen (now Poznań), then to Breslau (now Wrocław).

Friends smuggled out and illegally published her articles. Among them was "The Russian Revolution", criticising the Bolsheviks, presciently warning of their dictatorship. Nonetheless, she continued calling for a "dictatorship of the proletariat", albeit not the One Party Bolshevik model. In that context, she wrote "Freiheit ist immer die Freiheit des Andersdenkenden" ("Freedom is always the freedom of the one who thinks differently"). Another article, written in 1915 and published in June 1916, was "Die Krise der Sozialdemokratie" ("The Crisis of Social Democracy").

In 1917 the Spartacist League was affiliated with the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD) (anti-war, ex-SPD members, founded by Hugo Haase). In November 1918 the USPD and the SPD assumed power in the new republic upon the Kaiser's abdication. This followed the German revolution begun in Kiel, when Workers' and Soldiers' Councils seized most of Germany, to put an end to World War One and to the monarchy. The USPD and most of the SPD members supported the councils, while the SPD leaders feared, they could found a Räterepublik ("Council Republic"), in emulation of the system of Soviets of the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917.

German Revolution of 1918-19 and death

Luxemburg was freed from prison in Breslau on November 8, 1918. One day later Karl Liebknecht, who had also been freed from prison, proclaimed the Freie Sozialistische Republik (Free Socialist Republic) in Berlin. He and Luxemburg reorganised the Spartacus League and founded the Red Flag newspaper, demanding amnesty for all political prisoners and the abolition of capital punishment. On December 14, 1918, they published the new programme of the Spartacist League.

From December 29 to 31 of 1918, they took part in a joint congress of the Spartacist League, independent Socialists, and the International Communists of Germany (IKD), that led to the foundation of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) under the leadership of Karl Liebknecht and Luxemburg on January 1, 1919. She supported the new KPD's participation in the national constitutional assembly that founded the Weimar Republic; but she was out-voted.

In January 1919 a second revolutionary wave swept Berlin. Unlike Liebknecht, Luxemburg rejected this violent attempt to seize power. But the Red Flag encouraged the rebels to occupy the editorial offices of the liberal press.

In response to the uprising, Social Democratic leader Friedrich Ebert ordered the Freikorps to destroy the left-wing revolution. Luxemburg and Liebknecht were captured in Berlin on January 15, 1919, by the Freikorps' Garde-Kavallerie-Schützendivision. Its commander, Captain Waldemar Pabst, along with Horst von Pflugk-Hartung questioned them and then gave the order to execute them. Luxemburg was knocked down with a rifle butt, then shot in the head; her body was flung into Berlin's Landwehr Canal. In the Tiergarten Karl Liebknecht was shot and his body, without a name, brought to a morgue. Likewise, hundreds of KPD members were summarily killed, and the Workers' and Soldiers' councils disbanded; the German revolution was ended. More than four months later, on June 1, 1919, Luxemburg's corpse was found and identified.

One Freikorps soldier, Otto Runge (1875–1945), was imprisoned for two years for her murder, though Pabst was not. The Nazis later compensated Runge for having been jailed, and they merged the Garde-Kavallerie-Schutzendivision into the SA. In an interview given to the German news magazine "Der Spiegel" in 1962 and again in his memoirs, Pabst maintained that two SPD leaders, defense minister Gustav Noske and chancellor Friedrich Ebert, had approved of his actions. This statement has never been confirmed, since neither parliament nor the courts examined the case.

Luxemburg and Liebknecht were buried at Friedrichsfelde Central Cemetery in Berlin, where socialists and communists commemorate them every January 15. On May 29, 2009, the internet branch Spiegel online of news magazine Der Spiegel published an article[5] citing evidence that someone else's remains had mistakenly been buried. Forensic investigations carried out on a corpse kept in the Charité, Berlin's main hospital and medical school, suggest that it might be the actual remains of Rosa Luxemburg. The age at the point of death as well as the physiognomy are consistent with Luxemburg's, including the difference in the lengths of her legs. The body had been decapitated, probably to conceal the mortal head wounds. In 1919 an autopsy performed on the body that was eventually buried at Friedrichsfelde had cast doubt on the identity of the deceased.

Dialectic of Spontaneity and Organisation

The Dialectic of Spontaneity and Organisation was the central feature of Luxemburg's political philosophy, wherein "spontaneity" is a grass roots, even anarchistic, approach to organising a party-oriented class struggle. Spontaneity and organisation, she argued, are not separable or separate activities, but different moments of one political process; one does not exist without the other. These beliefs arose from her view that there is an elementary, spontaneous class struggle from which class struggle evolves to a higher level:

"The working classes in every country only learn to fight in the course of their struggles ... Social democracy ... is only the advance guard of the proletariat, a small piece of the total working masses; blood from their blood, and flesh from their flesh. Social democracy seeks and finds the ways, and particular slogans, of the workers' struggle only in the course of the development of this struggle, and gains directions for the way forward through this struggle alone."[6]

Luxemburg did not hold "spontaneism" as an abstraction, but developed the Dialectic of Spontaneity and Organisation under the influence of mass strikes in Europe, especially the Russian Revolution of 1905.[citation needed] Unlike the social democratic orthodoxy of the Second International, she did not regard organisation as product of scientific-theoretic insight to historical imperatives, but as product of the working classes' struggles:

"Social democracy is simply the embodiment of the modern proletariat's class struggle, a struggle which is driven by a consciousness of its own historic consequences. The masses are in reality their own leaders, dialectically creating their own development process. The more that social democracy develops, grows, and becomes stronger, the more the enlightened masses of workers will take their own destinies, the leadership of their movement, and the determination of its direction into their own hands. And as the entire social democracy movement is only the conscious advance guard of the proletarian class movement, which in the words of the Communist Manifesto represent in every single moment of the struggle the permanent interests of liberation and the partial group interests of the workforce vis à vis the interests of the movement as whole, so within the social democracy its leaders are the more powerful, the more influential, the more clearly and consciously they make themselves merely the mouthpiece of the will and striving of the enlightened masses, merely the agents of the objective laws of the class movement."[7]


"The modern proletarian class does not carry out its struggle according to a plan set out in some book or theory; the modern workers' struggle is a part of history, a part of social progress, and in the middle of history, in the middle of progress, in the middle of the fight, we learn how we must fight... That's exactly what is laudable about it, that's exactly why this colossal piece of culture, within the modern workers' movement, is epoch-defining: that the great masses of the working people first forge from their own consciousness, from their own belief, and even from their own understanding the weapons of their own liberation."[8]

Criticism of the October Revolution

In an article published just before the October Revolution, Luxemburg characterized the Russian February Revolution of 1917 as a "revolution of the proletariat", and said that the "liberal bourgeoisie" were pushed to movement by the display of "proletarian power." The task of the Russian proletariat, she said, was now to end the "imperialist" world war, in addition to struggling against the "imperialist bourgeoisie." The world war made Russia ripe for a socialist revolution. Therefore "the German proletariat are also ... posed a question of honour, and a very fateful question."[9]

In several works, including an essay written from jail and published posthumously by her last companion, Paul Levi (publication of which precipitated his expulsion from the Third International) entitled "The Russian Revolution",[10] Luxemburg sharply criticized some Bolshevik policies, such as their suppression of the Constituent Assembly in January 1918, their support for the partition of the old feudal estates to the peasant communes, and their policy of supporting the purported right of all national peoples to "self-determination." According to Luxemburg, the Bolsheviks' strategic mistakes created tremendous dangers for the Revolution, such as its bureaucratisation.

Her sharp criticism of the October Revolution and the Bolsheviks was lessened insofar as she explained the errors of the revolution and of the Bolsheviks with the "complete failure of the international proletariat"[11]

Bolshevik theorists such as Lenin and Trotsky responded to this criticism by arguing that Luxemburg's notions were classical Marxist ones, but did not fit Russia in 1917. They stated that the lessons of actual experience, such as the confrontation with the bourgeois parties, had forced them to revise the Marxian strategy. As part of this argument, it was pointed out that after Luxemburg herself got out of jail, she was also forced to confront the National Assembly in Germany — a step which they compared with their own conflict with the Constituent Assembly.

"In this erupting of the social divide in the very lap of bourgeois society, in this international deepening and heightening of class antagonism lies the historical merit of Bolshevism, and with this feat – as always in large historic connections – the particular mistakes and errors of the Bolsheviks disappear without trace.[12]

After the October Revolution, it becomes the "historic responsibility" of the German workers to carry out a revolution for themselves, and thereby end the war.[13] When a revolution also broke out in Germany in November, of 1918, Luxemburg immediately began agitating for a social revolution:

"The abolition of the rule of capital, the realization of a socialist social order – this, and nothing less, is the historical theme of the present revolution. It is a formidable undertaking, and one that will not be accomplished in the blink of an eye just by the issuing of a few decrees from above. Only through the conscious action of the working masses in city and country can it be brought to life, only through the people's highest intellectual maturity and inexhaustible idealism can it be brought safely through all storms and find its way to port."[14]

The social revolution demands that power is in the hands of the masses, in the hands of the workers' and soldiers' councils. This is the program of the revolution. It is, however, a long way from soldier – from the "Guards of the Reaction" (Gendarmen der Reaktion) – to revolutionary proletarian.

Last words: belief in the revolution

Luxemburg's last known words, written on the evening of her murder, were about her belief in the masses, and in what she saw as the inevitability of revolution:

"The leadership has failed. Even so, the leadership can and must be recreated from the masses and out of the masses. The masses are the decisive element, they are the rock on which the final victory of the revolution will be built. The masses were on the heights; they have developed this 'defeat' into one of the historical defeats which are the pride and strength of international socialism. And that is why the future victory will bloom from this 'defeat'.
'Order reigns in Berlin!' You stupid henchmen! Your 'order' is built on sand. Tomorrow the revolution will already 'raise itself with a rattle' and announce with fanfare, to your terror:
I was, I am, I shall be!"[15]


Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of a party – however numerous they may be – is no freedom at all. Freedom is always the freedom of the dissenter. Not because of the fanaticism of "justice", but rather because all that is instructive, wholesome, and purifying in political freedom depends on this essential characteristic, and its effects cease to work when "freedom" becomes a privilege.[16]


Stencil Graffiti of Rosa Luxemburg on a portion of the Berlin Wall on display in Potsdamer Platz in Berlin. The title reads "I am a terrorist."

In Berlin Mitte, the Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz and selfsame U-Bahn station were named in her honour by the East German government. The Volksbühne (People's Theatre) is in Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz. The names remain unchanged since reunification in 1989.

In Warsaw's Wola district, a manufacturing facility of electric lamps, was established and named after " Róży Luksemburg" in the PRL.

In 1919, Bertolt Brecht wrote the poetic memorial Epitaph honouring Rosa Luxemburg, and, in 1928, Kurt Weill set it to music as The Berlin Requiem:

Red Rosa now has vanished too. (...)
She told the poor what life is about,
And so the rich have rubbed her out.
May she rest in peace.

The British New Left historian Isaac Deutscher wrote of Rosa: "In her assassination Hohenzollern Germany celebrated its last triumph and Nazi Germany its first".

A different viewpoint, however, was common among the Russian White emigres who settled in Weimar Berlin. According to one,

"Infamous, that fifteen thousand Russian officers should have let themselves be slaughtered by the Revolution without raising a hand in self-defense! Why didn't they act like the Germans, who killed Rosa Luxemburg in such a way that not even a smell of her has remained?"[20]


Rosa Luxemburg memorial at the site of her murder in Berlin

At the edge of the Tiergarten, on the Katharina-Heinroth-Ufer, which runs between the southern bank of the Landwehr Canal and the bordering Zoologischer Garten (Zoological Garden) a memorial has been installed on which the name of Rosa Luxemburg appears in raised capital letters, marking the spot where her body was thrown into the canal by Freikorps troops.



See also


  1. ^ Luxemburg biography at
  2. ^ Frederik Hetmann: Rosa Luxemburg. Ein Leben für die Freiheit, p. 308
  3. ^ Gedenken an Rosa Luxemburg und Karl Liebknecht – ein Traditionselement des deutschen Linksextremismus, BfV-Themenreihe, Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, 2008
  4. ^ Annette Insdorf (1987-05-31). "Rosa Luxemburg: More Than a Revolutionary". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-12-06. 
  5. ^ Der Spiegel
  6. ^ In a Revolutionary Hour: What Next?, Collected Works 1.2, p.554
  7. ^ The Political Leader of the German Working Classes, Collected Works 2, p.280
  8. ^ The Politics of Mass Strikes and Unions, Collected Works 2, p.465
  9. ^ ibid., p. 245
  10. ^ "The Nationalities Question in the Russian Revolution (Rosa Luxemburg, 1918) |". 2006-07-11. Retrieved 2010-01-02. 
  11. ^ On the Russian Revolution, GW 4, p. 334)
  12. ^ Fragment on War, National Questions, and Revolution, Collected Works 4, p. 366
  13. ^ Luxemburg, The Historic Responsibility, GW 4, p. 374
  14. ^ The Beginning, Collected Works 4, p. 397
  15. ^ Luxemburg, Order reigns in Berlin, Collected Works 4, p. 536, in the Rosa Luxemburg Internet Archive
  16. ^ Die russische Revolution. Eine kritische Würdigung, Berlin 1920 S. 109; Rosa Luxemburg — Gesammelte Werke Band 4, S. 359, Anmerkung 3 Dietz Verlag Berlin (Ost), 1983; see [1]
  17. ^ The Russian Revolution, Chapter 6, in the Rosa Luxemburg Internet Archive
  18. ^ Our Program and the Political Situation, in the Rosa Luxemburg Internet Archive
  19. ^ The Junius Pamphlet, chapter 1, in the Rosa Luxemburg Internet Archive
  20. ^ Count Harry Kessler, Berlin in Lights: The Diaries of Count Harry Kessler (1918-1937) Grove Press, New York, 1999. Tuesday 28 March 1922.

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Rosa Luxemburg (disambiguation)

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Rosa Luxemburg was a Polish-Jewish-German Marxist theorist, socialist philosopher, and revolutionary. Rosa Luxemburg can also refer to:

Rosa Luxemburg (film)

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Rosa Luxemburg
Directed by Margarethe von Trotta
Produced by Eberhard Junkersdorf
Regina Ziegler
Written by Margarethe von Trotta
Starring Barbara Sukowa
Cinematography Franz Rath
Editing by Dagmar Hirtz
Release date(s) 10 April 1986
Running time 123 minutes
Country Germany
Language German

Rosa Luxemburg (German: Die Geduld der Rosa Luxemburg) is a 1986 German drama film directed by Margarethe von Trotta. It was entered into the 1986 Cannes Film Festival where Barbara Sukowa won the award for Best Actress.[1]



  1. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Rosa Luxemburg". Retrieved 2009-07-10. 

External links

Rosa Luxemburg Foundation

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The Rosa Luxemburg Foundation (Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung) is a German research foundation associated with the party DIE LINKE (The Left Party). It was founded in Berlin in 1990 as the "Social Analysis and Political Education Association".

The Rosa Luxemburg Foundation is actively involved in political education throughout the Federal Republic of Germany. It considers itself part of the political movement for democratic socialism. It is a discussion forum for critical thinking and political alternatives, and a centre for progressive ideas and research both in Germany and throughout the world.

Since 2001, the Foundation has been undertaking a wide range of political education projects with funds from the Foreign Office and the Federal Ministry for Development and Cooperation. Since 1999, the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation has been able to grant scholarships to nearly 900 students and PhD-students from Germany and abroad.

The Rosa Luxemburg Foundation has been recognised by Die Linke as the political education institution related to it. Within the framework of a network of foundations, it cooperates closely with independent local foundations. The foundation has about 100 staff in its Berlin headquarter, and offices in Brussels, Warsaw, Moscow, Sao Paulo, Johannesburg, Mexico City, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem (Ramallah), Beijing and Hanoi.

See also

External links Interesting video talks


Portrait of Rosa Luxemburg

1894: What Are the Origins of May Day?
1896: The Polish Question at the International Congress in London
1896: Social Democracy and the National Struggles in Turkey
1898: The Industrial Development of Poland
1898: Opportunism and the art of the possible
1898: Speeches to Stuttgart Congress
1899: Speech to the Hanover Congress
1899: The Dreyfus Affair and the Millerand Case
1899: Militia and Militarism
1900: Reform or Revolution
1901: The Socialist Crisis in France
1901: To the National Council of the French Worker’s Party
1902: Martinique
1902: The Eight Hour Day at the Party Congress
1903: An anti-clerical policy of Socialism
1903: In Memory of the Proletarian Party
1903: Marxist Theory and the Proletariat
1903: Stagnation and Progress of Marxism
1903: Lassalle and the Revolution
1904: In the Storm
1904: Social Democracy and Parliamentarism
1904: Organizational Questions of the Russian Social Democracy [aka Leninism or Marxism?]
1905: The Polish Question and the Socialist Movement
1905: The Revolution in Russia
1905: Socialism and the Churches
1906: The Mass Strike
1906: Riot and Revolution
1906: Blanquism and Social Democracy
1907: Two Methods of Trade-Union Policy
1908: 25th anniversary of Marx’s death
1908: Speech to Nuremburg Congress
1909: The National Question
1909: Special Problems of Poland
1910: The Next Step
1910: Theory & Practice [A polemic against Comrade Kautsky’s theory of the Mass Strike]
1911: Concerning Morocco
1911: Peace Utopias
1911: Mass Action
1911: An Amusing Misunderstanding
1911: To the Unity Conference of the Socialist Organisations in Manchester
1912: Women’s Suffrage and Class Struggle
1912: The Fallen Women of Liberalism
1912: What Now?
1913: The Idea of May Day on the March
1913: Down With Reformist Illusions—Hail the Revolutionary Class Struggle!
1913: The Political Mass Strike
1913: Lassalle’s Legacy
1913: The Accumulation of Capital
1915: The Accumulation of Capital: An Anti-Critique
1915: Rebuilding the International
1915: The Junius Pamphlet (The Crisis of Social Democracy)
1916: Either/Or
1917: The Old Mole
1918: The Russian Revolution
1918: Life of Korolenko
1918: The Russian tragedy
1918: Oh! How – German is this Revolution!
1918: The Beginning
1918: A Duty of Honor (Alternate translation: Against Capital Punishment)
1918: The National Assembly
1918: A Call to the Workers of the World
1918: The Acheron in Motion
1918: Five letters from prison
1916-1918: Letters from Prison to Sophie Liebknecht
1918: The Socialisation of Society (Alternate Translation: What is Bolshevism?)
1918: What does the Spartacus League Want?
1918: The Elections to the National Assembly
1918: Our Program and the Political Situation (Alternate Translation: On the Spartacus Programme
1919: What are the Leaders Doing?
1919: House of Cards
1919: Order Prevails in Berlin
After Death: What is Economics? (PF)

On the Eightieth Anniversary of the Martyrdom
of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg

'If You Do Not Follow the Order You Will Be Shot'

New facts about the murder of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg

Eighty years ago on 15th January, 1919 the leadership of the Communist Party of Germany, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, were brutally assassinated. It was a momentous loss for the German and international working class movement and it had widespread and long-term repercussions. The two leaders adhered to the revolutionary trend within the German Social-Democratic Party which had developed shortly after the turn of the century.

For the first time in Marxist literature Karl Liebknecht took up the question of militarism in the imperialist period in his book Militarism and Anti-Militarism which came out in 1907 and which led him to being sentenced to imprisonment. As a member of the Prussian Chamber of Deputies and the Reichstag he exposed the bosses of the military industries headed by Krupp for their warmongering policies and called for international proletarian solidarity as the decisive weapon in the struggle against militarism. Liebknecht welcomed the 1905 Revolution in Russia and came into a sharp political clash with the revisionists, defending the general mass strike as a special proletarian means of struggle. He denounced the assistance given by the German government to tsarism which was engaged in the suppression of the revolution and called upon the German proletariat to emulate the struggle of the Russian workers.

At the beginning of the First World War he did not initially break with the discipline of the Social-Democratic Party, voting for war credits on August 4th, 1914. Liebknecht soon corrected his position and on 2nd December, 1914 he cast the sole vote against war credits. In a statement which was submitted to the Chairman of the Reichstag he characterised the war as one of annexation. This document was later circulated as an illegal leaflet. Even when drafted to the front, Liebknecht skilfully utilised his membership of the Prussian and Reichstag Chambers to continue the struggle. He adopted the Bolshevik slogan of transforming the imperialist war into a civil war. Together with Rosa Luxemburg he established the Spartacus group. From the rostrum of the Prussian Chamber of Deputies he called upon the Berlin proletariat to join the Mayday demonstration of 1916. In the course of this Liebknecht called for the overthrow of the government which was conducting an imperialist war : for this action he was arrested and sentenced by a military court to jail for four years. It was there that he learnt the news of the October Revolution.

Rosa Luxemburg was born in Poland in 1871 and lived and worked in Germany from 1898. She was an early opponent of the revisionist E. Bernstein, actively opposing the ministerialism of Millerand and the opportunist compromises with bourgeois parties. Her writings on these questions were collected in 1899 in Social Reform or Revolution? With regard to the split in the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party Rosa Luxemburg did not accept the Leninist views on the need to construct a proletarian party. Stalin noted that Luxemburg had declared for the Mensheviks, arguing that the Bolsheviks had tendencies to Blanquism and ultra-centralism. During the Russian Revolution of 1905-07 she drew closer to the Bolsheviks on many questions of the strategy and tactics of the revolutionary struggle. Rosa Luxemburg correctly understood the role of the working class as the decisive force of the revolution, recognised the need for an armed uprising against tsarism and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Luxemburg expressed complete agreement with the Bolshevik view that the liberal bourgeoisie was a counter-revolutionary force and that the peasantry constituted a revolutionary class. Drawing on the experience of the 1905 revolution she supported the greatest possible development of the extra-parliamentary struggle of the masses and stressed the need to use the mass political strike. For her anti-militarist struggle she was imprisoned during the First World War.

In her major theoretical works on political economy Rosa Luxemburg presented a critique of capitalism and imperialism where the aggressive colonial policies were described; she upheld the view, however, that the accumulation of capital under capitalism was possible through the expansion of the sphere of exploitation of the non-capitalist sectors so that imperialism was defined as the struggle of the capitalist states for the non-capitalist environment. Despite her important theoretical contribution Rosa Luxemburg deviated from Marxism on a number of questions: to wit, on the denial of the right of national self-determination and an underestimation of the revolutionary potentialities of the peasantry.

From the beginning of the First World War she criticised the imperialist character of the war and the betrayal of the social-democratic leadership. As a founder and leader of the Spartacus League she authored a number of anti-war tracts. Luxemburg greeted the October revolution, commended the role of the Bolsheviks while incorrectly evaluating the Bolshevik tactics on the agrarian and national question, and the dispersal of the Constituent Assembly. Her critiques of Bolshevik tactics have been widely advertised by the spokesmen of U.S. imperialism notwithstanding the fact that she retraced her steps on a number of questions relating to the Bolshevik revolution and made a turn towards Leninism defending the dictatorship of the proletariat and the Soviets in Germany.

Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg were among the founders of the Communist Party of Germany which held its constituent congress from 30th December, 1918 to January 1, 1919. After the suppression of the Berlin workers' uprising of January 1919, the ruling classes organised the brutal killings of the two communists on 15th January 1919. The roots of the murders lay in the secret accommodation reached between the right-wing socialist leader Chancellor Friedrich Ebert and General Groener which was established in November, 1918 'in order to prevent the spread of terroristic Bolshevism in Germany'. Bourgeois and socialist organs competed to hunt down the two revolutionaries. The spy office of the Reichstag Regiment founded by the Social-Democratic Party set a bounty of 100,000 marks on the heads of Liebknecht and Luxemburg. On the 13th January, 1919 two days before the murders the Social-Democratic Party paper Vorwärts carried a poem calling for the assassination of the two communists.The last verse of this ended:

It was not without foundation that John Heartfield was to craft the photomontage entitled 'Fraternal greetings of the SDP' in which the deathhead of Karl Liebknecht was depicted below the masthead of the SDP paper Vorwärts which was shown dripping with blood.

After the liberation of Berlin by the heroic Red Army in 1945 a participant of the murders was arrested and interrogated. His testimony sheds light on the final hours of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg.


Copy No.1

4 October 1945,
N.205 cc

From the Deputy Chairman of the Council of the People's Commissars of the USSR,

To Comrade V.M. Molotov,

I am forwarding for you an intimation of the military prosecutor of the Berlin garrison about the arrest and testimony of a participant to the murder of Rosa Luxemburg.

K. Gorshenin

The Military Prosecutor of the Berlin Garrison

13 September 1945


To the Chief Military Prosecutor of the Red Army Lt. General of Law

Comrade N.P. Afanasiev,

On 13 June 1945 the Berlin operative group of the NKVD arrested a participant of the murder of Rosa Luxemberg — Otto Runge (living under the documents of Rudolf Wilhelm), born 1875, hailing from Gestebize (on Oder), by nationality a German and by (class — trans.) origin a peasant, educated up to 8th class, member of the NSDP since 1933, living in Berlin at 22 Greifen-Gagenerstrasse. Since 1941 was living in retirement on pension and was not working anywhere.

The investigations revealed the following:

Unter officer of a cavalry division Otto Runge, on the orders of the commander of his battalion, on the 13th of January 1919, was sent along with 15 other soldiers of his battalion to hotel Eden (Berlin, Nurembergenstrasse No.30) to guard the regiment's headquarter.

On the 15th of January, Captain Pabst, an officer of the Staff of the regiment gave Runge the order to personally stand guard, along with soldier Drager, at the main entrance of hotel Eden from 18.00 hours (Berlin time) onwards. At 20.00 Runge and Drager were not replaced at the post and on orders of General Hofman, who at that time was present at the headquarters of the regiment, they were left to guard the headquarters for an unspecified period of time.

At 20.45 a car stopped at the main entrance of hotel Eden with four officers and Rosa Luxemburg. The latter was led by the officers into the regimental headquarters. Approximately 10 minutes later a second car also stopped at the main entrance with three officers and Karl Liebknecht, who was led by these officers into the regimental headquarters.

At this time, having come to know about the arrest of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, people started to gather near hotel Eden.

After K.Liebknecht and R. Luxemburg were led into the regimental Pflugk-Hartung headquarters, captain Pflugk-Hartung approached Runge and asked : did he know who the man and the woman in civilian clothes brought in just then were, and when Runge answered in the negative, Pflugk-Hartung told Runge that they were Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, that they were pernicious revolutionaries and bandits who wanted to overthrow the rulers and seize power for themselves. Pflugk-Hartung then ordered Runge that when K. Liebknecht and R. Luxemburg come out of the hotel he must shoot them. Runge supposedly refused to do so on the pretext that a large number of people had gathered and he might slip and hurt some one else too. Subsequently Pflugk-Hartung went inside the headquarters and captain Pabst came out and gave the order to kill K. Liebknecht and R. Luxemburg by hitting them with the butt of the rifle, which Runge agreed to do. After Pabst left, lieutenant Kanaris came out and told Runge that if he did not carry out the orders i.e. kill K. Liebknecht and R. Luxemburg he himself would be shot. Kanaris also went inside the headquarters.

When Runge and Drager were left alone at the post, the latter told Runge that if he (Runge — trans.) did not carry out the orders then Drager himself will kill K. Liebknecht and R. Luxemburg with his bayonet. To which Runge replied that 'the order has been given and I will carry it out'.

After a few minutes the director (his name is not established) of the hotel walked out of the main entrance. He was on the right, in the middle was R. Luxemburg and to the left was lieutenant Vogel, who pushed R. Luxemburg out of the hotel directly towards the guard Runge. Runge was prepared for the murder and with the full swing of the hand struck Luxemburg with the butt of the rifle on the left side of her face and shoulder, under the impact of which the latter fell to the ground, but was still alive and attempted to stand up. At this moment 4 soldiers came out of the hotel, and along with lieutenant Vogel dragged R. Luxemburg into the same car in which she had been brought to the hotel. They themselves got into the car. Vogel took out a pistol and in that very place shot Luxemburg in the head. Her corpse was carried away.

Subsequently, the following persons walked out of the hotel: captain-lieutenant Pflugk-Hartung, his brother, captain Pflugk-Hartung, Oberlieutenant Rithin, oberlieutenant (illegible in the original document), lieutenant Shultz, lieutenant Liepmann soldier Friedrich and among them was K. Liebknecht who was taken away by them in a car parked on the other side of the road.

After a whole Lieutenant Krul came to Runge at the post and ordered him to go immediately to the 2nd floor of the hotel and kill Wilhelm Pieck, the Editor of the Communist newspaper 'Rote-Fahne'.

Krul brought Runge to the 2nd floor, where Wilhelm Pieck was standing in the corridor, and told Runge to shoot Wilhelm Pieck if he made a move. They wanted to fake a killing while attempting to escape while under detention.

When Runge and Pieck were left alone in the corridor, the latter turned to Runge and said 'soldier do not shoot me, I have something more to convey to your command', after which Runge led Wilhelm Pieck to the room of captain Pabst. After a few minutes Pabst led Pieck out into the corridor and ordered Runge to accompany the latter to the commandant's office. On the way, supposedly, Runge let Wilhelm Pieck go, and returned to the headquarters and reported to Lieutenant Hervitz, that he, Runge, fell ill and had let Pieck go, as he could not accompany him any further.

Approximately at 22.30 Lieutenant Vogel came to the headquarters and declared that they had dumped the corpse of R. Luxemburg into the river Spree.

The second car returned approximately at 23.00 with the officers who had taken away K.Liebknecht, and they said that they took the latter along the road towards the Zoological Park and faked a breakdown in the car. They stopped the car and got out of it. Then lieutenant Shultz took a pen-knife out of Liebknecht's pocket, cut himself on the arm and then shot Karl Liebknecht, thereby trying to depict that Liebknecht was killed while attempting to escape during which he injured Shultz.

On 16th January Runge was summoned to the regimental headquarters where Captain Pabst gave Runge the order: stay, without leaving at the apartment of Lieutenant Liepmann till he received the necessary documents for departure.

After a gap of 8 days Lieutenants Kanaris and Liepmann gave Runge false documents in the name of Krankenwerter Dinwald and suggested to him to proceed to Fletsburg and also handed Runge a sum of 1000 Marks.

Runge lived in Fletsburg till 11th April 1919 and then two officers from the crime police came to him and asked Runge to come along with them to Berlin.

On the way to Berlin on the train, these officers of the crime police explained to Runge that he was being taken to the court in a case regarding the murder of K. Liebknecht and R. Luxemburg. He must deny his involvement in the killing, declaring that at the time he, Runge, was living in Fletsburg.

On reaching Berlin Runge was put in jail on 13th April, and on 8th May the legal process started and continued till 14th of May.

On 9th June 1945 during interrogation Otto Runge gave the following evidence:

'During the time when I was in jail prior to the trial, advocate Grinsbach and judge Hentz came to my cell and gave me instructions as to how I should conduct myself during the trial. They told me to take all the blame on myself and not to involve any of the officers. I was supposed to declare that the killing of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht was carried out by me on my own initiative in a state of insanity'.

During the interrogation of 14.IX.1945 Otto Runge said:

'After I answered the question put to me by judge Hentz that I had killed Rosa Luxemberg and Karl Liebknecht on my own initiative and in a state of insanity, no more questions were posed to me'.

And further:

'In reality I was not insane, I was a normal person and was answerable for my acts as a person in full control of his mental abilities.

'Before the trial I was thrice sent for medical examination and the legal medical consultants doctors Leipmann and Shtrasmon gave the report about my insanity'.

After the officers, who really were involved in the killing of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, when asked by the court replied that they had never issued any orders regarding the killing, indignant and angry shouts were heard in the courtroom from the general public to the effect that the officers were giving false testimony as they were the real perpetrators of the killing and Runge had served only as a tool in their hands. Judge Hentz stopped the trial and removed the public from the courtroom and the session continued in camera.

Runge was sentenced to 25 months in jail by this trial court and all the officers were acquitted.

While serving time in jail, some time in the month of November 1919, one colonel Apshtet, who was then told the whole truth by Runge about the killing of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, visited Runge. Colonel Apshtet made a written record of the interrogation of Runge and told the latter that this record would be placed before the Chairman of the Supreme Military Court for a second inquiry into the case for Runge's acquittal.

On the 31st of January 1920 by a decision of the Supreme Military Court Runge was released and continued to stay at his home waiting for the second trial.

On the 5th of February 1920 Runge was visited at his home by 3 officers of the police and Heppert, the Head of the administration of the jails. The latter told Runge that new court proceedings were going to be initiated regarding the case of the killing of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, and Runge would appear in these proceedings as a witness and the officers involved in the killing as the accused. However, due to political compulsions Runge would have to be put in jail again. Heppert took away the certificate of release by the Supreme Court' (Vishii Verkhovnii Sud — trans.) from Runge and he was taken to the jail by the policemen where he stayed till 24th March still waiting for the trial to begin.

In connection with the publication of an article in one of the journals by its editor, one Bornstein, regarding the wrong sentence passed by Judge Hentz in 1919 in the case regarding the killing of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, a new trial was initiated in which Runge appeared as a witness.

During the interrogation of 8th August of this year Otto Runge said:

'About 8 days before the beginning of the trial of Judge Hentz I was approached by two persons who offered me 10,000 marks so that I would give the same evidence in this trial regarding the killing of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht as I gave in the earlier trial of 1919. These people did not mention their names but did mention that they had come on the personal request of Judge Hentz. I refused to accept their offer'.

During this interrogation Runge also said:

'At the trial of Judge Hentz I told the entire truth, how the killing was really carried out and also about the attempt to kill Wilhelm Pieck'.

At the trial of Judge Hentz Wilhelm Pieck was also present as a witness.

For fraudulently passing the judgement in the case regarding the killing of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht in 1919, Judge Hentz, supposedly, was dismissed from the post of the Chief Prosecutor of Germany after a trial in 1929.

It was not possible to investigate the matter of the killing of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht in greater detail, despite my written directive, in view of the fact that no more witnesses or direct participants of the killing could be found, and Runge's health sharply deteriorated in the second half of August. On 1st September Runge died due to deteriorating symptoms of old age (Runge was born in 1875).

Military Prosecutor of the Berlin garrison
Colonel of Law

Courtesy: 'Vestnik' No.1, 1995. Translated from the Russian by Tahir Asghar.

Epitaphs For Karl Liebknecht and
Rosa Luxemburg

Bertolt Brecht

Epitaph 1919

Epitaph for Karl Liebknecht

Epitaph for Rosa Luxemburg

Translated from the German by V.P. Sharma

In Memory of Karl Liebknecht, 1919-20, Käthe Kollwitz

Tony Cliff

Rosa Luxemburg


First published as a pamphlet in 1959 (International Socialism, No.2/3).
Reprinted 1968, 1969 and 1980) (note on editions).
Reprinted in Tony Cliff, International Struggle and the Marxist Tradition, Selected Works Vol.1, Bookmarks, London 2001, pp.59-116.
Transcribed by Artroom, East End Offset (TU), London.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Proofread by Anoma Cartwright (march 2008).




This text is a translation of two articles entitled 'Organisational Questions of Russian Social Democracy', written by Rosa Luxemburg in 1904.  The translation was made by the United Workers' Party in America and first published in Britain in Pamphlet form in 1935 by the Anti-Parliamentary Communist Federation. 

It was later republished by the Independent Labour Party in the 1960s and went under the title of Leninism or Marxism

 This text was scanned from the ILP pamphlet.  In the 1935 edition, several of the paragraphs were transposed.  This version follows the 1935 edition, except for a few grammatical amendments.

It remains interesting because, even in 1904, Luxemburg was able to identify those aspects of Lenin's politics which were to lead to the defeat of the Russian Revolution at the hands of the Bolsheviks.



In Social Democracy, organisation is also a different thing from that of the earlier, Utopian attempts at Socialism. It is not an artificial product of propaganda but an historical product of the class struggle, into which Social Democracy simply brings the political consciousness. Under normal conditions, i.e. where the class rule of the bourgeoisie precedes the social-democratic movement, the first political welding together of the workers has in large measure been the work of the bourgeoisie itself. "On this plane," says the Communist Manifesto, "the drawing together of workers in mass is not yet the consequence of their own union, but the consequence of the union of the bourgeoisie." In Russia there has fallen to Social Democracy the task of consciously stepping in and taking over a part of the historical process and of leading the proletariat as a fighting class which is conscious of its goal from political authoritarianism, which forms the foundation of the absolutist regime, immediately to the highest form of organisation. Thus the organisational question is particularly difficult to Russian Social Democracy not merely because its work must be done without any previous experience of bourgeois democracy, but because it has to create in a sense, like the good Lord himself "out of nothing", without the political raw material which has elsewhere already been prepared by bourgeois society.

The problem on which Russian Social Democracy has been working during the last few years is, to be precise, the transition from the dispersed, quite independent circles and local organisations, which corresponded to the preparatory and primarily propagandistic phase of the movement, to a form of organisation such as is required for a unified political action of the masses throughout the whole nation.

Since, however, the most prominent trait of the old form of organisation, now grown unbearable and politically outmoded, was dispersion and complete autonomy, or the self-sufficiency of the local organisations, it was quite natural that the watchword of the new phase, of the preparatory work for the great organisation, should become centralism. The emphasis on this thought was the leitmotif of Iskra in its brilliant three-year campaign for preparing the last and really constituent party congress, and the same thought dominated the entire young guard of the party. However, it was soon to appear at the Congress, and still more so after the Congress, that centralism is a slogan which is far from exhausting the historical content, the peculiarity of the social-democratic type of organisation; it has been shown once more that the Marxist conception of Socialism is not susceptible of being fixed in formulae.

The present book of Comrade Lenin, ( One Step Forward, Two Steps Backward [Geneva. 1904].) one of the prominent leaders and debaters of Iskra in its campaign prior to the Russian Party Congress, is the systematic exposition of the views of the ultra-centralist wing of the party. The conception which has here found expression in penetrating and exhaustive form is that of a thorough-going centralism of which the vital principle is, on the one hand, the sharp separation of the organised bodies of outspoken and active revolutionists from the unorganised though revolutionary active masses surrounding them, and on the other hand, strict discipline and direct, decisive and determining intervention of the central authorities in all expressions of life in the party's local organisations. It suffices to note, for example, that the central committee, according to this conception, is authorised to organise all sub-committees of the party, hence also has power to determine the personal composition of every single local organisation, from Geneva and Liege to Tomsk and Irkutsk, to give it a set of self-made local statutes, to completely dissolve it by a decree and create it anew, and finally in this manner to influence the composition of the highest party authority, the Party Congress. According to this. the central committee appears as the real active nucleus of the party, and all other organisations are merely its executive organs.

In the union of such a strict centralism in organisation with the social-democratic mass movement, Lenin perceives a specific Marxist-revolutionary principle, and has succeeded in bringing into the field a large number of facts to support his conception. Let us, however, look into the matter a bit more closely.

There can be no doubt that a strong capitalistic streak is native to Social Democracy. Having sprung from the economic soil of capitalism, which is centralistic in its tendencies, and confined in its struggle to the political framework of a centralised great power under the dominance of the bourgeoisie, Social Democracy is fundamentally opposed to any particularism or national federalism. Called upon to represent the total interests of the proletariat as a class within the framework of a given State in opposition to all partial and group interests, it reveals everywhere a natural striving to weld together all national, religious and professional groups of the working class into one unified party.

In this respect, there has been and is for Russian Social Democracy also no question but that it must form, not a federative conglomerate made up of a great number of special organisations on a national and provincial scale, but a unified, compact labour party of the Russian Empire. There is, however, a quite different question also to be considered: namely, the greater or lesser degree of centralisation and the detailed structure within a united and unified party.

From the standpoint of the formal tasks of Social Democracy as a fighting party, centralism in its organisation appears a priori as an indispensable condition, the fulfilment of which is directly related to the fighting qualities of the party. More important here, however, than the consideration of the formal demands of any fighting organisation are the specific historical conditions of the proletarian struggle.

The social-democratic movement is the first in the history of class societies which, in all its factors and throughout its course, is calculated upon the organisation and the initiative of the masses. In this respect, Social Democracy creates a quite different type of organisation than did the earlier socialist movements; for example, those of the Jacobin and Blanquist type.

Lenin appears to underrate this fact when he states in his book that the revolutionary Social Democrat is, after all, simply "the Jacobin inseparably linked with the organisation of the class-conscious proletariat". In the organisation and class consciousness of the proletariat, Lenin perceives the only factors which differentiate Social Democracy from Blanquism. He forgets that this difference involves also a complete transvaluation of organisational concepts, a quite new content of the many-sided relation between organisation and struggle.

Up to this point we have regarded the question of centralism from the standpoint of the general bases of Social Democracy and also in part from that of the present-day relations in Russia. But the night-watchman spirit of the ultra-centralism championed by Lenin and his friends is by no means, as concerns him personally, an accidental product of errors but is bound up with a thorough-going opposition to opportunism.

"The question is," says Lenin, "by means of the rules of organisation, to forge a weapon against opportunism. The deeper the sources of opportunism lie, the sharper must be this weapon."

Lenin perceives then in the absolute power of the central committee and in the strict hedging off of the party by statute, the one effective dyke against the opportunistic current, the specific earmarks of which he denotes as the inborn academic predilection for autonomism, for disorganisation, and the wincing at strict party discipline and at any bureaucratism in the party life. In Lenin's opinion, only the socialist Literati, thanks to his innate instability and individualism, can oppose such unlimited powers of the central committee; a genuine proletarian, on the other hand, must, even as a result of his revolutionary class instinct, experience a sort of rapture at all the stiffness, strictness and smartness of his highest party officials, and so subjects himself to all the rude operation of party discipline with joyously closed eyes. Bureaucratism as against democratism," says Lenin, "that is precisely the organisational principle of Social Democracy as opposed to the organisational principle of the opportunists." He appeals insistently to the fact that the same opposition between the centralistic and the autonomistic conception in Social Democracy is becoming noticeable in all countries where the revolutionary and the reformist or revisionist tendency stand facing each other.

Firstly, it must be noted that the strong emphasis laid on the inborn capacities of the proletarians for social-democratic organisation and the contempt heaped upon the academic elements of the social-democratic movement, is not in itself to be appraised as anything Marxist-revolutionary. All that sort of thing can equally well be regarded as bearing a relationship to opportunistic views.

To be sure, there can be observed in what has hitherto been the practice of Social Democracy of Western Europe an undeniable connection between opportunism and the academic element, and also between opportunism and decentralist tendencies in questions of organisation. But when these phenomena, which arose upon a concrete historical soil, are released from this connection, and converted into abstract patterns with general and absolute validity such a procedure is the greatest sin against the Holy Ghost of Marxism, namely, against his historic-dialectical method of thought.

Taken in the abstract, only this may be definitely stated: that the intellectual, as an element stemming from the bourgeoisie and hence by nature foreign to the proletariat, can arrive at socialism not in accordance with his own class feeling, but only through overcoming that feeling and by way of the socialist ideology, and is accordingly more predisposed to opportunistic strayings than is the enlightened proletarian, who, in so far as he has not lost the connection with his social origin, the proletarian mass, is provided with a sure revolutionary handhold in virtue of his immediate class instinct. As to the concrete form, however, in which this academic tendency to opportunism appears, particularly in matters of organisation that depends in each case on the concrete social milieu in question.

The phenomena in the life of the German as well as of the French and Italian Social Democracy, to which Lenin refers, were the outgrowth of a quite determinate social basis, namely, bourgeois parliamentarianism. Just as this latter is in general the specific soil of the present opportunistic current in the socialist movement of Western Europe, so also have sprung from it the special tendencies of opportunism towards disorganisation.

Parliamentarianism supports not only all the illusions of present-day opportunism, as we have come to know them in France, Italy and Germany, but also the over-estimation of reform work, of the co-operation of classes and parties, of peaceful development, etc. It forms, at the same time, the soil on which these illusions can be confirmed in practice, in that the intellectuals, who as parliamentarians even in Social Democracy are still separated from the proletarian mass, are thus in the sense elevated over that mass. Finally, with the growth of the labour movement, the same parliamentarianism makes of this movement a springboard for political upstarts, and accordingly easily converts it into a refuge for ambitious and bankrupt bourgeois existences.

From all these factors, arises also the definite inclination of the opportunistic intellectual of Western European Social Democracy to disorganisation and lack of discipline.

The second definite basis of the present-day opportunistic current is, of course, the presence of an already high stage of development of the social-democratic movement, and therefore of an influential social-democratic party organisation. The latter appears, then, as the bulwark of the revolutionary movement against bourgeois-parliamentarian tendencies a bulwark which has to be worn down and pulled apart so as to dissolve the compact and active kernel of the proletariat back into the amorphous mass of electors. In this way, arise the historically well-founded and determinate political aims of modern opportunism with its admirably adapted automatic and decentralistic tendencies; tendencies which, therefore, are not to he traced back to the inborn slovenliness and looseness of the intellectual, as Lenin assumes, but to the needs of the bourgeois parliamentarian not to the psychology of the academic element, but to the politics of the opportunist.

But all these relations have a considerably different aspect in absolutist Russia, where the opportunism in the labour movement is by no means a product of the vigorous .growth of the Social Democracy, of the decomposition of bourgeois society, but inversely a product of its political backwardness.

The Russian intelligentsia, from which the socialist intellectual is recruited, has naturally a much more indeterminate class character, is much more declasse in the exact sense of the word, than the intelligentsia of Western Europe. From this there results in combination, of course, with the youthfulness of the proletarian movement in Russia  a much wider field for theoretical instability and opportunistic meanderings, which, at one time, take the form of a complete negation of the political side of the labour movement, and at another time, turn toward the opposite belief in the exclusive blessedness of terrorism, and finally rest up in the philosophic swamps of liberalism or of Kantian idealism.

But for the tendency towards disorganisation to be effective, the social-democratic intellectual of Russia lacks, in our opinion, not only the positive hold in bourgeois parliamentarism but also the corresponding sauce-psychological milieu. The modern writer of Western Europe who devotes himself to the cult of his alleged ego and drags this master morality even into the socialist world of struggle and thought, is not typical of bourgeois existence; he is in fact the product of a decadent, corrupted bourgeoisie already hidebound in the worst circle of its class rule. On the other hand, the Utopian and opportunistic vagaries of the socialist intellectual of Russia tend, as is understandable, rather to assume the inverted theoretical form of self-mortification, or self-flagellation. In fact, that erstwhile "going to the people, that is, the obligatory masquerade of the Populist intellectual as a peasant, was nothing other than a despairing invention of the same intellectual, just as is nowadays the clumsy cult of the horny hand on the part of the pure Economists.

The same reflection also makes clear that centralism in the social-democratic sense is not at all an absolute concept which can be carried out equally well at any stage of the labour movement, but that it must rather be regarded as a tendency, the realisation of which proceeds in step with the enlightenment and political schooling of the working class in the course of its struggle.

The insufficiency of the most important presuppositions for the full realisation of centralism in the Russian movement at the present time may, to be sure, have a very baneful effect. Nevertheless it is false, in our opinion, to believe that the majority rule of the enlightened workers within their party organisation although as yet unattainable, may be replaced temporarily by a transferred sole-mastery on the part of the central authority of the party, and that the as yet undeveloped public control on the part of the working masses over the acts and omissions of the party organs would be just as well replaced by the inverted control of a central committee over the activity of the revolutionary workers.

The history of the Russian movement itself furnishes many proofs for the dubious value of centralism in this latter sense. The central committee with its almost unlimited authority of interference and control according to Lenin's idea would evidently be an absurdity if it should limit its power to the purely technical side of the social-democratic activity, to the outer means and accessories of agitation say, to the supplying of party literature and suitable distribution of agitational and financial forces. It would have a comprehensible political purpose only in case it were to employ its power in the creation of a unified fighting tactic for Russia and in arousing a great political action. What do we see, however, in the phases through which the Russian movement has already passed Its most important and most fruitful tactica1 turns of the last decade were not by any means 'invented' by determinate leaders of the movement, and much less by leading organisations , but were in each case the spontaneous product of the unfettered movement itself. So was the first stage of the genuine proletarian movement in Russia, which began with the elemental outbreak of the great St. Petersburg strike in the year 1896 and which for the first time had inaugurated the economic mass action of the Russian proletariat. Likewise, the second phase that of the political street demonstrations was opened quite spontaneously as a result of the student unrests in St. Petersburg in March 1901. The further significant turning point, by which new horizons were opened to tactics, was the mass strike which broke out all of itself in Rostov-on-Don, with its ad hoc improvised street agitation, the popular meetings under the open sky, the public addresses things of which the boldest blusterer among the Social Democrats would not have ventured to think a few years earlier. Of all these cases, we may say that, in the beginning was the deed. The initiative and conscious leadership of the social-democratic organisations played an exceedingly small role. This was not, however, so much the fault of defective preparation of these special organisations for their role even though this factor may have been a considerable contributing cause and certainly not of the lack at that time, in the Russian Social Democracy, of an all-powerful central committee in accordance with Lenin's plan. On the contrary, such a committee would in all probability only have had the effect of making the indecision of the various party committees still greater, and brought about a division between the storming masses and the procrastinating Social Democracy.

The same phenomenon the small part played by the conscious initiative of the party leadership in the shaping of tactics is still more observable in Germany and elsewhere. The fighting tactics of Social Democracy, at least, as regards its main features, are definitely not invented, but are the result of a progressive series of great creative acts in the course of the class struggle which is often e1emental and always experimenting. Here also the unconscious precedes the conscious, the logic of the objective historical process goes before the subjective logic of its spokesmen. So that the role of social-democratic leadership becomes one of an essentially conservative character, in that it leads to working out empirically to its ultimate conclusions the new experience acquired in the struggle and soon to converting it into a further innovation in the grand style. The present tactic of German Social Democracy, for example, is generally admired for its remarkable manifoldness, flexibility, and at the same time, certainty. Such qualities simply mean, however, that our party has adapted itself wonderfully to its daily struggle on the present parliamentary basis, down to the last detail, that it knows how to exploit the whole field of battle offered by parliamentarism and to master it in accordance with given principles. At the same time, however, this specific formulation of tactics already serves too much to conceal the further horizons in that one notes a strong inclination to eternalize that tactic and to regard the parliamentary tactic as the social-democratic tactic for all time. As illustrative of this mood, we may mention the vain efforts which Parvus has been making for years now to bring about a debate in the party press regarding an eventual reformulation of tactics in case of the abrogation of universal suffrage, in spite of the fact that such an eventuality is viewed by the party leaders in full and bitter seriousness. This inertia is, however, largely explained by the difficulty of giving contour and palpable forms to a political struggle which, whatever its weight in the emptiness of abstract speculation, is still non-existent and imaginary. To. Social Democracy also, the important thing each time is not the premonition and formulation of a ready -made recipe for the future tactic, but the preservation within the party of the correct historical appraisal for the prevailing forms of struggle, a sensitivity to the relativity of the given phase and for the necessary intensification of the revolutionary factors from the standpoint of the final goal of the proletarian movement.

But to desire, as Lenin does, to deck out a party leadership with such absolute powers of a negative character would be only to multiply artificially and in a most dangerous measure the conservatism which is a necessary outgrowth of every such leadership. Just as the social-democratic tactic was formed not by a central committee but by the whole party or, more correctly stated by the whole movement, so the separate organisations of the party plainly require such elbow-room as alone enables complete of all means offered by the situation of the moment, as well as the unfolding of revolutionary initiative. The ultra-centralism advocated by Lenin, however, appears to us as something which, in its whole essence, is not informed with the positive and creative spirit, but with the sterile spirit of the night-watchman. His thought is patterned mainly upon the control of party activity and not upon its promotion, upon narrowing and not upon unfolding, upon the hemming and not upon the drawing together of the movement.

Such an experiment seems doubly dangerous to Russian Social Democracy at the present time. The party stands on the eve of great revolutionary struggles for the overthrow of absolutism, before or rather engaged in a period of most intense creative activity in the field of tactics and thing which is self-evident in revolutionary epochs of feverish extensions and shiftings of its sphere of influence. In such times, to insist on fettering the initiative of the party spirit and raising a barbed-wire fence around its capacity for leap-like expansion, would be to make Social Democracy unfit in advance for the great tasks of the moment.

These general considerations on the peculiar content of social democratic centralism do not, of course, allow us to deduce the actual rules of organisation for the Russian party. Those depend naturally, in the last instance, upon the concrete circumstances in which the activity develops in the given period, and  since we are concerned in Russia with what is, after all, the first attempt at a great proletarian party organisation can scarcely pretend to infallibility in advance, but must rather in each case first stand the test of practical life. What can be inferred, however, from the general conception of the social-democratic type of organisation are the main outlines, the spirit of the organisation; and this spirit prescribes, especially in the beginnings of the mass movement, co-ordination and drawing together rather than regimentation and exclusiveness. If this spirit of political liberty, combined with a sharp eye to stability of principles and to the unity of the movement, has secured a foothold in the ranks of the party, in such a case the defects of any rules of organisation, even of those which are awkwardly worded, will soon undergo effective revision through practice itself. It is not the wording of the regulations but the spirit and meaning incorporated into that wording by the active fighters which decides the value of a form of organisation.

Blanquism was not based upon the direct class action of the working masses, and accordingly did not need a mass organisation. On the contrary, since the great mass of the people was not to appear on the scene of action until the time for the revolution, while the preliminary action for the preparation of a revolutionary insurrection was performed by a small minority, a sharp separation of the persons entrusted with this action from the mass of the people was an indispensable condition to the successful carrying out of their task. Such a separation was possible and practicable, since no inner connection existed between the daily life of the masses and the Blanquist conspiratorial activity. Likewise, since the tactic and the more immediate objects of activity had no connection with the elemental class struggle, but were improvised out of the whole cloth, these were worked out in full detail in advance, fixed and described as a definite plan. For that reason the active members of the organisations were naturally transformed into pure executive organs of a previously determined will existing outside their own field of activity, i.e. into tools of a central committee. Thus we have also the second characteristic of conspiratorial centra1ism: the absolute, blind subordination of the different organs of the party to their central authority, and the extension of the decisive powers of this latter onto the outermost periphery of the party organisation.

Fundamentally different are the conditions of social-democratic action. This action grows historically out of the elemental class struggle. In so doing, it works and moves in the dialectical contradiction that the proletarian army is first recruited in the struggle itself, where it also becomes clear regarding the tasks of the struggle. Organisation, enlightenment and struggle are not separate, mechanical and also temporarily disconnected factors, as in the case of a Blanquist movement, but are only different sides of the same process. On the one hand apart from general principles of the struggle there is no detailed, ready-made fighting tactic established in advance and in which the party membership could be drilled by a central committee. On the other hand, the process of struggle which shapes the organisation leads to a constant fluctuation of the party's sphere of influence.

It follows that social-democratic centralisation cannot be based on blind obedience, on mechanical subordination of the party fighters to their central authority; and, furthermore, that no absolute partition can be erected between the nucleus of the class conscious proletariat already organised into fixed party cadres and the surrounding element engaged in the class struggle but still in process of class enlightenment. The setting up of the central organisation on these two principle son the blind subordination of all party organisations and their activity, down to the least detail, to a central authority which alone thinks, acts and decides for all, and on a sharp separation of the organised nucleus of the party from the surrounding revolutionary milieu, as championed by Lenin appears to us for that reason as a mechanical carrying over of the organisational principles of the Blanquist movement of conspiratorial circles onto the social-democratic movement of the working masses. And Lenin himself has perhaps characterised his standpoint more keenly than any of his opponents could do, in that he defines his "revolutionary Social Democrat" as the "Jacobin indissolubly linked with the organisation of the class-conscious workers". As a matter of fact, however, Social Democracy is not linked with the organisation of the movement of the working class, but is the movement of the working class itself. Social-democratic centralism must therefore be of an essentially different construction from the Blanquist. It can be nothing other than the imperious co-ordination of the will of the enlightened and fighting vanguard of the workers as contrasted with its different groups and individuals; this is, so to speak, a self-centralism of the leading element of the proletariat, the majority rule of that element within its own party organisation.

Simply from looking into this true content of social-democratic centralism, it becomes clear that the necessary conditions for it are not yet fully realised in Russia. These conditions are, in the main, the presence of a considerable element of proletarians already schooled in the political struggle and the possibility of giving expression to their maturity through the direct exercise of influence (at public party congresses, in the party press, etc.).

It is clear that this latter condition can only be created with the advent of political freedom in Russia. The former condition, however the forming of a class-conscious, competent vanguard of the proletariat is only in course of achievement and must be regarded as the primary purpose of the next agitational and organisational work.

All the more surprising is the effect produced by the opposite assurance of Lenin, according to which all the preconditions for the carrying out of a large and highly centralised labour party are already present in Russia. And he betrays once more a much too mechanical conception of social-democratic organisation in optimistically proclaiming that even now it is "not the proletariat but a great number of intellectuals in the Russian Social Democracy who lack self-training in the spirit of organisation and discipline". The discipline which Lenin has in mind is impressed upon the proletariat not merely by way of the factory, but also through the whole mechanism of the centralised bourgeois State. And it is nothing short of an improper use of slogans to denote equally as discipline two such opposed concepts as the lack of will and thought of a four-legged and many-armed mass of flesh which performs mechanical movements to the accompaniment of the baton and the voluntary co-ordination of conscious political actions on the part of a certain social element; the lifeless obedience of a governed class and the organised rebellion of a class struggling for its liberation. It is not by adding to the discipline impressed upon it by the capitalist State with the mere transfer of the baton from the hand of the bourgeoisie into that of a social-democratic central committee but by the breaking up and uprooting of this slavish spirit of discipline, that the proletariat can be prepared for the new discipline, the voluntary self-discipline of Social Democracy.

If we seek to solve the question of forms of organisation, not by way of the mechanical transfer to Russia of inert patterns from Western Europe but through the investigation of the given concrete relations in Russia itself, we arrive at a quite different conclusion. To say of opportunism, as Lenin implicitly does, that it goes in for any one certain form of organisations for decentralization is at any rate to mistake its inner nature. Being opportunistic as it is, the only principle of opportunism, even in questions of organisation, is lack of principles. It always selects its means according to circumstances, with reference to the degree to which those means promote its ends. But if, like Lenin, we define opportunism as the endeavour to paralyse the independent revolutionary movement of the proletariat in order to make it serviceable to the lust for ruling on the part of the bourgeois intelligentsia, one can only say that this purpose can be most readily attained, in the initial stages of the labour movement, not through decentralisation but precisely by way of strict centralism, by which the proletarian movement, still unclear in its aims and methods, is turned over, bound hand and foot, to a handful of academic leaders.

Even from the standpoint of the fears entertained by Lenin-i.e....., the dangerous influence of the intellectuals upon the proletarian movement his own conception of organisation constitutes the greatest danger for Russian Social Democracy.

As a matter of fact, there is nothing which so easily and so surely hands over a still youthful labour movement to the private ambitions of the intellectuals as forcing the movement into the straight-jacket of a bureaucratic centralism,  ( In England the Fabians are the most zealous supporters of bureaucratic centralism and enemies of democratic forms of organisation, particularly the Webbs the Editor (Die Nine Zeit).) which debases the fighting workers into a pliable tool in the hands of a committee. And inversely, nothing so surely preserves the labour movement from all opportunistic abuses on the part of an ambitious intelligentsia as the revolutionary self-activation of the working masses, the intensification of their feeling of political responsibility.

And, in fact, the very thing which Lenin sees as a spectre today, may easily turn tomorrow into a palpable reality.

Let us not forget that the revolution which we see in the offing in Russia is not a proletarian but a bourgeois revolution, which will greatly change the entire background of the social-democratic struggle. Thereupon the Russian intelligentsia will also quickly absorb a strongly pronounced bourgeois content. Whereas today Social Democracy is the only leader of the Russian working masses, on the morning after the revolution the bourgeoisie, and in the first instance, its intelligentsia, will seek to convert these masses into a pedestal for its parliamentary rule. Thus, the less scope there is given in the present period of the struggle to the self-activation, to the free initiative, to the political sense of the awakened element of the working class, and the more that element is politically bell-weathered and drilled by a social-democratic central committee, the easier will be the game of the bourgeoisie demagogues in the renovated Russia and the more will the results of the current efforts of the Social Democracy turn to the advantage of the bourgeoisie.

On the other hand, it is a thoroughly unhistorical illusion to think that the social-democratic tactic in the revolutionary sense can be established in advance once for all time, that the labour movement can be preserved once-for-all from opportunistic side-leaps. To be sure, the Marxian doctrine provides effective weapons against all basic types of opportunistic thought. Since, however, the social-democratic movement is in fact a mass movement and the dangers by which it is menaced do not spring from human heads but from the social conditions, opportunistic strayings cannot be guarded against in advance; they must be overcome through the movement itself of course, with the aid of the weapons supplied by Marxism after they have assumed a definite shape in the course of experience. Regarded from this point of view, opportunism too appears as a product of the labour movement itself, as an unavoidable factor of its historical development. Precisely in Russia, where Social Democracy is still young, and the political conditions of the labour movement are so abnormal, opportunism might very well at present spring largely from this source, from the unavoidable groping and experimenting in matters of tactics, from the necessity of bringing the present struggle into harmony with socialist principles in quite peculiar and unexampled relations.

But if that is so, one must marvel all the more at the idea that the rise of opportunistic tendencies can be forbidden in the very beginnings of a labour movement by means of this or that form of rules of organisation. The attempt to ward off opportunism by such scraps of paper can, as a matter of fact, do no harm to opportunism but only to Social Democracy itself. By restraining within the party the pulsing of healthy blood, such an attempt weakens its power of resistance not only against opportunistic currents, but also a thing which, after all, might be of some importance against the existing social order. The means turns against the end.

In this frightened effort of a part of Russian Social Democracy to preserve from false steps the aspiring labour movement of Russia through the guardianship of an omniscient and omnipresent central committee, we seem to see also the same subjectivism by which socialist thought in Russia has frequently been imposed upon in the past. Amusing, in truth, are the somersaults which the revered human subject of history loves to perform at times in his own historical process. The ego which has been beaten down by Russian absolutism takes revenge by setting itself on the throne in its revolutionary thought-world and declaring itself omnipotent as a conspiratorial committee in the name of a non-existent popular will. The object shows itself stronger, however: the knout soon triumphs, in that it proves itself to be the legitimate expression of the given stage of the historical process. Finally, there appears on the scene, as a more legitimate child of the historical process, the Russian labour movement, which makes a splendid beginning to form, for the first time in Russian history, a real popular will. Now, however, the ego of the Russian revolutionary quickly stands on its head and declares itself once more to be an almighty ruler of history this time, in the directing of the social-democratic working masses. In so doing, the bold acrobat overlooks the fact that the only subject to which this role has now fallen is the mass-ego of the working class, which everywhere insists on venturing to make its own mistakes and learning historical dialectic for itself. And by way of conclusion, let us say openly, mistakes made by a really revolutionary working-class movement are infinitely, in historical perspective, more fruitful and valuable than the infallibility of the most excellent central committee.

This article is part of the series collected by the Socialist Party, the CWI in Ireland, on aspects of Labour History.

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Trotsky: The Political Profiles of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg

Posted on Monday, July 25 2005

WE HAVE suffered two heavy losses at once which merge into one enormous bereavement. There have been struck down from our ranks two leaders whose names will be for ever entered in the great book of the proletarian revolution: Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. They have perished. They have been killed. They are no longer with us!

Written By Leon Trotsky, 1919.

Karl Liebknecht’s name, though already known, immediately gained world-wide significance from the first months of the ghastly European slaughter. It rang out like the name of revolutionary honour, like a pledge of the victory to come. In those first weeks when German militarism celebrated its first orgies rosaand feted its first demonic triumphs; in those weeks when the German forces stormed through Belgium brushing aside the Belgian forts like cardboard houses; when the German 420mm cannon seemed to threaten to enslave and bend all Europe to Wilhelm; in those days and weeks when official German social-democracy headed by its Scheidemann and its Ebert bent its patriotic knee before German militarism to which everything, at least it seemed, would submit—both the outside world (trampled Belgium and France with its northern part seized by the Germans) and the domestic world (not only the German junkerdom, not only the German bourgeoisie, not only the chauvinist middle-class but last and not least the officially recognized party of the German working class); in those black, terrible and foul days there broke out in Germany a rebellious voice of protest, of anger and imprecation; this was the voice of Karl Liebknecht. And it resounded throughout the whole world!

In France where the mood of the broad masses then found itself under the heel of the German onslaught; where the ruling party of French social-patriots declared to the proletariat the necessity to fight not for life but until death (and how else when the ‘whole people’ of Germany is craving to seize Paris!); even in France Liebknecht’s voice rang out warning and sobering, exploding the barn. cades of lies, slander and panic. It could be sensed that Liebknecht alone reflected the stifled masses.

In fact however even then he was not alone as there came forward hand in hand with him from the first day of the war the courageous, unswerving and heroic Rosa Luxemburg. The lawlessness of German bourgeois parliamentarism did not give her the possibility of launching her protest from the tribune of parliament as Liebknecht did and thus she was less heard. But her part in the awakening of the best elements of the German working class was in no way less than that of her comrade in struggle and in death, Karl Liebknecht. These two fighters so different in nature and yet so close, complemented each other, unbending marched to. wards a common goal, met death together and enter history side by side.

Karl Liebknecht represented the genuine and finished embodiment of an intransigent revolutionary. In the last days and months of his life there have been created around his name innumerable legends: senselessly vicious ones in the bourgeois Press, heroic ones on the lips of the working masses.

In his private life Karl Liebknecht was—alas!—already he merely was the epitomy of goodness, simplicity and brotherhood. I first met him more than 15 years ago. He was a charming man, attentive and sympathetic. It could be said that an almost feminine tenderness, in the best sense of this word, was typical of his character. And side by side with this feminine tenderness he was distinguished by the exceptional heat of a revolutionary will able to fight to the last drop of blood in the name of what he considered to be right and true. His spiritual independence appeared already in his youth when he ventured more than once to defend his opinion against the incontestable authority of Bebel. His work amongst the youth and his struggle against the Hohenzollern military machine was marked by great courage. Finally he discovered his full measure when he raised his voice against the serried warmongering bourgeoisie and the treacherous social-democracy in the German Reichstag where the whole atmosphere was saturated with miasmas of chauvinism. He discovered the full measure of his personality when as a soldier he raised the banner of open insurrection against the bourgeoisie and its militarism on Berlin’s Potsdam Square. Liebknecht was arrested. Prison and hard labour did not break his spirit. He waited in his cell and predicted with certainty. Freed by the revolution in November last year, Liebknecht at once stood at the head of the best and most determined elements of the German working class. Spartacus found himself in the ranks of the Spartacists and perished with their banner in his hands.

Rosa Luxemburg’s name is less well-known in other countries than it is to us in Russia. But one can say with all certainty that she was in no way a lesser figure than Karl Liebknecht. Short in height, frail, sick, with a streak of nobility in her face, beautiful eyes and a radiant mind she struck one with the bravery of her thought. She had mastered the Marxist method like the organs of her body. One could say that Marxism ran in her blood stream.

I have said that these two leaders, so different in nature, complemented each other. I would like to emphasize and explain this. If the intransigent revolutionary Liebknecht was characterized by a feminine tenderness in his personal ways then this frail woman was characterized by a masculine strength of thought. Ferdinand Lassalle once spoke of the physical strength of thought, of the commanding power of its tension when it seemingly overcomes material obstacles in its path. That is just the impression you received talking to Rosa, reading her articles or listening to her when she spoke from the tribune against her enemies. And she had many enemies! I remember how, at a congress at Jena I think, her high voice, taut like a wire, cut through the wild protestations of opportunists from Bavaria, Baden and elsewhere. How they hated her! And how she despised them! Small and fragilely built she mounted the platform of the congress as the personification of the proletarian revolution. By the force of her logic and the power of her sarcasm she silenced her most avowed opponents. Rosa knew how to hate the enemies of the proletariat and just because of this she knew how to arouse their hatred for her. She had been identified by them early on.

From the first day, or rather from the first hour of the war, Rosa Luxemburg launched a campaign against chauvinism, against patriotic lechery, against the wavering of Kautsky and Haase and against the centrists’ formlessness; for the revolutionary independence of the proletariat, for internationalism and for the proletarian revolution.

Yes, they complemented one another!

By the force of the strength of her theoretical thought and her ability to generalize Rosa Luxemburg was a whole head above not only her opponents but also her comrades. She was a woman of genius. Her style, tense, precise, brilliant and merciless, will remain for ever a true mirror of her thought.

Liebknecht was not a theoretician. He was a man of direct action. Impulsive and passionate by nature, he possessed an exceptional political intuition, a fine awareness of the masses and of the situation and finally an unrivalled courage of revolutionary initiative.

An analysis of the internal and international situation in which Germany found herself after November 9, 1918~ as well as a revolutionary prognosis could and had to be expected first of all from Rosa Luxemburg. A summons to immediate action and, at a given moment, to armed uprising would most probably come from Liebknecht. They, these two fighters, could not have complemented each other better.

Scarcely had Luxemburg and Liebknecht left prison when they took each other hand in hand, this inexhaustible revolutionary man and this intransigent revolutionary woman and set out together at the head of the best elements of the German working class to meet the new battles and trials of the proletarian revolution. And on the first steps along this road a treacherous blow has on one day, struck both of them down.

To be sure reaction could not have chosen more illustrious victims. What a sure blow l And small wonder! Reaction and revolution knew each other well as in this case reaction was personified in the guise of the former leaders of the former party of the working class, Scheidemann and Ebert whose names will be for ever inscribed in the black book of history as the shameful names of the chief organizers of this treacherous murder.

It is true that we have received the official German report which depicts the murder of Liebknecht and Luxemburg as a street ‘misunderstanding’ occasioned possibly by a watchman’s insufficient vigilance in the face of a frenzied crowd. A judicial investigation has been arranged to this end. But you and I know too well how reaction lays on this sort of spontaneous outrage against revolutionary leaders; we well remember the July days that we lived through here within the walls of Petrograd, we remember too well how the Black Hundred bands, summoned by Kerensky and Tsereteli to the fight against the Bolsheviks, systematically terrorized the workers, massacred their leaders and set upon individual workers in the streets. The name of the worker Voinov, killed in the course of a ‘misunderstanding’ will be remembered by the majority of you. If we had saved Lenin at that time then it was only because he did not fall into the hands of frenzied Black Hundred bands. At that time there were well-meaning people amongst the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries who were disturbed by the fact that Lenin and Zinoviev, who were accused of being German spies, did not appear in court to refute the slander. They were blamed for this especially. But at what court? At that court along the road to which Lenin would be forced to ‘flee’, as Liebknecht was, and if Lenin was shot or stabbed, the official report by Kerensky and Tsereteli would state that the leader of the Bolsheviks was killed by the guard while attempting to escape. No, after the terrible experience in Berlin we have ten times more reason to be satisfied that Lenin did not present himself to the phoney trial and yet more to violence without trial.

But Rosa and Karl did not go into hiding. The enemy’s hand grasped them firmly. And this hand choked them. What a blow! What grief! And what treachery! The best leaders of the German Communist Party are no more—our great comrades are no longer amongst the living. And their murderers stand under the banner of the Social-Democratic party having the brazenness to claim their birthright from no other than Karl Marx! ‘What a perversion! What a mockery! Just think, comrades, that ‘Marxist’ German Social. Democracy, mother of the working class from the first days of the war, which supported the unbridled German militarism in the days of the rout of Belgium and the seizure of the northern provinces of France; that party which betrayed the October Revolution to German militarism during the Brest peace; that is the party whose leaders, Scheidemann and Ebert, now organize black bands to murder the heroes of the International, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg!

What a monstrous historical perversion! Glancing back through the ages you can find a certain parallel with the historical destiny of Christianity. The evangelical teaching of the slaves, fishermen, toilers, the oppressed and all those crushed to the ground by slave society, this poor people’s doctrine which had arisen historically was then seized upon by the monopolists of wealth, the kings, aristocrats, archbishops, usurers, patriarchs, bankers and the Pope of Rome, and it became a cover for their crimes. No, there is no doubt however, that between the teaching of primitive Christianity as it emerged from the consciousness of the plebeians and the official catholicism or orthodoxy, there still does not exist that gulf as there is between Marx’s teaching which is the nub of revolutionary thinking and revolutionary will and those contemptible left-overs of bourgeois ideas which the Scheidemanns and Eberts of all countries live by and peddle. Through the intermediary of the leaders of social-democracy the bourgeoisie has made an attempt to plunder the spiritual possessions of the proletariat and to cover up its banditry with the banner of Marxism. But it must be hoped, comrades, that this foul crime will be the last to be charged to the Scheidemanns and the Eberts. The proletariat of Germany has suffered a great deal at the hands of those who have been placed at its head; but this fact will not pass without trace. The blood of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg cries out. This blood will force the pavements of Berlin and the stones of that very Potsdam Square on which Liebknecht first raised the banner of insurrection against war and capital to speak up. And one day sooner or later barricades will be erected out of these stones on the streets of Berlin against the servile grovellers and running dogs of bourgeois society, against the Scheidemanns and the Eberts!

In Berlin the butchers have now crushed the Spartacists’ movement: the German communists. They have killed the two finest inspirers of this movement and today they are maybe celebrating a victory. But there is no real victory here because there has not been yet a straight, open and full fight; there has not yet been an uprising of the German proletariat in the name of the conquest of political power. There has been only a mighty reconnoitering, a deep intelligence mission into the camp of the enemy’s dispositions. The scouting precedes the conflict but it is still not the conflict. This thorough scouting has been necessary for the German proletariat as it was necessary for us in the July days.

The misfortune is that two of the best commanders have fallen in the scouting expedition. This is a cruel loss but it is not a defeat. The battle is still ahead.

The meaning of what is happening in Germany will be better understood if we look back at our own yesterday. You remember the course of events and their internal logic. At the end of February, the popular masses threw out the Tsarist throne. In the first weeks the feeling was as if the main task had been already accomplished. New men who came forward from the opposition parties and who had never held power here took advantage at first of the trust or half. trust of the popular masses. But this trust soon began to break to splinters. Petrograd found itself in the second stage of the resolution at its head as indeed it had to be. In July as in February it was the vanguard of the revolution which had gone out far in front. But this vanguard which had summoned the popular masses to open struggle against the bourgeoisie and the compromisers, paid a heavy price for the deep reconnaissance it carried out.

In the July Days the Petrograd vanguard broke from Kerensky’s government. This was not yet an insurrection as we carried through in October. This was a vanguard clash whose historical meaning the broad masses in the provinces still did not appreciate. In this collision the workers of Petrograd revealed before the popular masses not only of Russia but of all countries that behind Kerensky there was no independent army, and that those forces which stood behind him were the forces of the bourgeoisie, the white guard, the counter-revolution.

Then in July we suffered a defeat. Comrade Lenin had to go into biding. Same of us landed in prison. Our papers were suppressed. The Petrograd Soviet was clamped down. The party and Soviet printshops were wrecked, everywhere the revelry of the Black Hundreds reigned. In other words there took place the same as what is taking place now in the streets of Berlin. Nevertheless none of the genuine revolutionaries had at that time any shadow of doubt that the July Days were merely the prelude to our triumph.

A similar situation has developed in recent days in Germany too. As Petrograd had with us, Berlin has gone out ahead of the rest of the masses; as with us, all the enemies of the German proletariat howled: ‘we cannot remain under the dictatorship of Berlin; Spartacist Berlin is isolated; we must call a constituent assembly and move it from red Berlin—depraved by the propaganda of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg—to a healthier provincial city in Germany. Everything that our enemies did to us, all that malicious agitation and all that vile slander which we heard here, all this translated into German was fabricated and spread round Germany directed against the Berlin proletariat and its leaders, Liebknecht and Luxemburg. To be sure the Berlin proletariat’s intelligence mission developed more broadly and deeply than it did with us in July, and that the victims and the losses are more considerable there is true. But this can be explained by the fact that the Germans were making history which we had made once already; their bourgeoisie and military machine had absorbed our July and October experience. And most important, class relations over there are incomparably more defined than here; the possessing classes incomparably more solid, more clever, more active and that means more merciless too.

Comrades, here there passed four months between the February revolution and the July days; the Petrograd proletariat needed a quarter of a year in order to feel the irresistible necessity to come out on the street and attempt to shake the columns on which Kerensky’s and Tsereteli’s temple of state rested. After the defeat of the July days, four months again passed during which the heavy reserve forces from the provinces drew themselves up behind Petrograd and we were able, with the certainty of victory, to declare a direct offensive against the bastions of private property in October 1917.

In Germany, where the first revolution which toppled the monarchy was played out only at the beginning of November, our July Days are already taking place at the beginning of January. Does this not signify that the German proletariat is living in its revolution according to a shortened calendar? Where we needed four months it needs two. And let us hope that this schedule will be kept up. Perhaps from the German July Days to the German October not four months will pass as with us, but less—possibly two months will turn out sufficient or even less. But however events

proceed, one thing alone is beyond doubt: those shots which were sent into Karl Liebknecht’s back have resounded with a mighty echo throughout Germany. And this echo has rung a funeral note in the ears of the Scheidemanns and the Eberts, both in Germany and elsewhere.

So here then we have sung a requiem to Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. The leaders have perished. We shall never again see them alive. But, comrades, how many of you have at any time seen them alive? A tiny minority. And yet during these last months and years Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg have lived constantly among us. At meetings and at congresses you have elected Karl Liebknecht honorary president. He himself has not been here—he did not manage to get to Russia—and all the same he was present in your midst, he sat at your table like an honoured guest, like your own kith and kin—for his name had become more than the mere title of a particular man, it had become for us the designation of all that is best, courageous and noble in the working class. When any one of us has to imagine a man selflessly devoted to the oppressed, tempered from head to foot, a man who never lowered his banner before the enemy, we at once name Karl Liebknecht. He has entered the consciousness and memory of the peoples as the heroism of action. In our enemies’ frenzied camp when militarism triumphant had trampled down and crushed everything, when everyone whose duty it was to protest fell silent, when it seemed there was nowhere a breathing-space, he, Karl Liebknecht, raised his fighter’s voice. He said you, ruling tyrants, military butchers, plunderers, you, toadying lackies, compromisers, you trample on Belgium, you terrorize France, you want to crush the whole world, and you think that you cannot be called to justice, but I declare to you: we, the few, are not afraid of you, we are declaring war on you and having aroused the masses we shall carry through this war to the end!’ Here is that valour of determination, here is that heroism of action which makes the figure of Liebknecht unforgettable to the world proletariat.

And at his side stands Rosa, a warrior of the world proletariat equal to him in spirit. Their tragic death at their combat positions couples their names with a special, eternally unbreakable link. Henceforth they will be always named together: Karl and Rosa, Liebknecht and Luxemburg!

Do you know what the legends about saints and their eternal lives are based upon? On the need of the people to preserve the memory of those who stood at their head and who guided them in one way or another; on the striving to immortalize the personality of the leaders with the halo of sanctity. We, comrades, have no need of legends, nor do we need to transform our heroes into saints. The reality in which we are living now is sufficient for us, because this reality is in itself legendary. It is awakening miraculous forces in the spirit of the masses and their leaders, it is creating magnificent figures who tower over all humanity.

Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg are such eternal figures. We are aware of their presence amongst us with a striking, almost physical immediacy. At this tragic hour we are joined in spirit with the best workers of Germany and the whole world who have received this news with sorrow and mourning. Here we experience the sharpness and bitterness of the blow equally with our German brothers. We are internationalists in our sorrow and mourning just as much as we are in all our struggles.

For us Liebknecht was not just a German leader. For us Rosa Luxemburg was not just a Polish socialist who stood at the head of the German workers. No, they are both kindred of the world proletariat and we are all tied to them with an indissoluble spiritual link. Till their last breath they belonged not to a nation but to the International!

For the information of Russian working men and women it must be said that Liebknecht and Luxemburg stood especially close to the Russian revolutionary proletariat and in its most difficult times at that. Liebknecht’s flat was the headquarters of the Russian exiles in Berlin. When we had to raise the voice of protest in the German parliament or the German press against those services which the German rulers were affording Russian reaction we above all turned to Karl Liebknecht and he knocked at all the doors and on all the skulls, including the skulls of Scheidemann and Ebert to force them to protest against the crimes of the German government. And we constantly turned to Liebknecht when any of our comrades needed material support. Liebknecht was tireless as the Red Cross of the Russian revolution.

At the congress of German Social-Democrats at Jena which I have already referred to, where I was present as a visitor, I was invited by the presidium on Liebknecht’s intiative to speak on the resolution moved by the same Liebknecht condemning the violence and the brutality of the Tsarist government in Finland. With the greatest diligence Liebknecht prepared his own speech collecting facts and figures and questioning me in detail on the customs relations between Tsarist Russia and Finland. But before the matter reached the platform (I was to speak after Liebknecht) a telegram report on the assassination of Stolypin in Kiev had been received. This telegram produced a great impression at the congress. The first question which arose amongst the leadership was: would it be appropriate for a Russian revolutionary to address a German congress at the same time as some other Russian revolutionary had carried out the assassination of the Russian Prime Minister? This thought seized even Bebel: the old man who stood three heads above the other Central Committee members, did not like any ‘needless’ complications. He at once sought me out and subjected me to questions: ‘What does the assassination signify? Vithich party could be responsible for it? Didn’t I think that in these conditions that by speaking I would attract the attention of the German police?’ ‘Are you afraid that my speech will create certain difficulties?’ I asked the old man cautiously. ‘Yes’, answered Bebel, ‘I admit I would prefer it if you did not speak’. ‘Of course,’ I answered, ‘in that case there can be no question of my speaking’. And on that we parted.

A minute later, Liebknecht literally came running up to me. He was agitated beyond measure. ‘Is it true that they have proposed you do not speak?’ he asked me. ‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘I have just settled this matter with Bebel’. ‘And you agreed?’ ‘How could I not agree,’ I answered justifying myself, ‘seeing that I am not master here but a visitor’. ‘This is an outrageous act by our presidium, disgusting, an unheard-of scandal, miserable cowardice!’ etc., etc. Liebknecht gave vent to his indignation in his speech where he mercilessly attacked the Tsarist government in defiance of backstage warnings by the presidium who had urged him not to create needless’ complications in the form of offending his Tsarist majesty.

From the years of her youth Rosa Luxemburg stood at the head of those Polish Social-Democrats who now together with the so-called ‘Lewica’ i.e. the revolutionary Section of the Polish Socialist Party have joined to form the Communist Party. Rosa Luxemburg could speak Russian beautifully, knew Russian literature profoundly, followed Russian political life day by day, was joined by close ties to the Russian revolutionaries and painstakingly elucidated the revolutionary steps of the Russian proletariat in the German press. In her second homeland, Germany, Rosa Luxemburg with her characteristic talent, mastered to perfection not only the German language but also a total understanding of German political life and occupied one of the most prominent places in the old Bebelite Social-Democratic party. There she constantly remained on the extreme left wing.

In 1905 Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg in the most genuine sense of the word lived through the events of the Russian revolution. In 1905 Rosa Luxemburg left Berlin for Warsaw, not as a Pole but as a revolutionary. Released from the citadel of Warsaw on bail she arrived illegally in Petrograd in 1906, where, under an assumed name, she visited several of her friends in prison. Returning to Berlin she redoubled the struggle against opportunism opposing it with the path and methods of the Russian revolution.

Together with Rosa we have lived through the greatest misfortune which has broken on the working class. I am speaking of the shameful bankruptcy of the Second International in August 1914. Together with her we raised the banner of the Third International. And now, comrades, in the work which we are carrying out day in and day out we remain true to the behests of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. If we build here in the still cold and hungry Petrograd the edifice of the socialist state, we are acting in the spirit of Liebknecht and Luxemburg; if our army advances on the front, it is defending with blood the behests of Liebknecht and Luxemburg. How bitter it is that it could not defend them too!

In Germany there is no Red Army as the power there is still in enemy hands. We now have an army and it is growing and becoming stronger. And in anticipation of when the army of the German proletariat will close its ranks under the banner of Karl and Rosa, each of us will consider it his duty to draw to the attention of our Red Army, who Liebknecht and Luxemburg were, what they died for and why their memory must remain sacred for every Red soldier and for every worker and peasant.

The blow inflicted on us is unbearably heavy. Yet we look ahead not only with hope but also with certainty. Despite the fact that in Germany today there flows a tide of reaction we do not for a minute lose our confidence that there, red October is nigh. The great fighters have not perished in vain. Their death will be avenged. Their shades will receive their due. In addressing their dear shades we can say: ‘Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, you are no longer in the circle of the living but you are present amongst us; we sense your mighty spirit; we will fight under your banner; our fighting ranks shall be covered by your moral grandeur! And each of us swears if the hour comes, and if the revolution demands, to perish without trembling under the same banner as under which you perished, friends and comrades-in-arms, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht!’

1919 Revolution in Germany

By Mick Barry in Militant Irish Monthly, Feb. 1989, No. 169
"Then came stirring news. Mutiny in the Kaiser's fleet. I saw women who laughed and wept because they had their men in the fleet. From windows and doors in the front of the food stores sounded the anxious voices: 'The fleet must not sail!' 'It's murder!' 'Finish the war!' "(Jan Valtin, Out of the Night.) This was Germany in November 1918. The mutiny that the women celebrated was the beginning of a social revolution which would succeed in ending the war and overthrowing the Kaiser. It would also see the workers take power in virtually every city in Germany. Read the rest of this article.

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Rosa Luxemburg in Retrospect - Paul Mattick

Rosa Luxemburg speaks at public meeting - 1907

Mattick reconsiders the legacy of Rosa Luxemburg, particularly her critique of Bolshevism and her economic theory.

It will soon be sixty years since the mercenaries of the German social-democratic leadership murdered Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. Although they are mentioned in the same breath, as they both symbolized the radical element within the German political revolution of 1918, Rosa Luxemburg's name carries greater weight because her theoretical work was of greater seminal power. In fact, it can be said that: she was the outstanding personality in the international labor movement after Marx and Engels; and that her work has not lost its political relevance despite the changes the capitalist system and the labor movement have undergone since her death.

Just the same, like everyone else, Rosa Luxemburg was a child of her time and can only be understood in the context of the phase of the social-democratic movement of which she was a part. Whereas Marx's critique of bourgeois society evolved in a period of rapid capitalistic development, Rosa Luxemburg was active in a time of increasing instability for capitalism, wherein the abstractly formulated contradictions of capital production showed themselves in the concrete forms of imperialistic competition and in intensified class struggles. While the actual proletarian critique of political economy, according to Marx, consisted at first in the workers' fight for better working conditions and higher living standards, which would prepare the future struggles for the abolition of capitalism, in Rosa Luxemburg's view this 'final' struggle could no longer be relegated to a distant future but was already present in the extending class struggles. The daily fight for social reforms was inseparably connected with the historical necessity of the proletarian revolution.

Without entering into Rosa Luxemburg's biography,(1) it should be said, that she came from a middle-class background and that she entered the socialist movement at an early age. Like others, she was forced to leave Russian Poland and went to Switzerland to study. Her main interest, as behooved a socialist influenced by Marxism, was political economy. Her early work in this field is now only of historical interest. There was her inaugural-dissertation, The Industrial Development of Poland (1898), which did for Poland, though in a less extensive manner, what Lenin's The Development of Capitalism in Russia, did for Czarist Russia a year later. And there were her popular lectures at the Social-Democratic Party School, posthumously published by Paul Levi (1925) under the title Introduction of National Economy. In the latter work, it should be noted, Rosa Luxemburg declared that the validity of political economy is specific to capitalism, and will cease to exist with the demise of this system. In her dissertation, she came to the conclusion that the development of the Polish economy would proceed in conjunction with that of Russia, would end in complete integration, and therewith would end the nationalist aspirations of the Polish bourgeoisie. But this development would also unify the Russian and Polish proletariat and lead to the eventual destruction of Polish-Russian capitalism. The main contradiction of capitalist production was seen by her as one between the capacity to produce and the limited capacity to consume within the capitalist relations of production. This contradiction leads to recurrent economic crises and the increasing misery of the working class and therewith, in the long run, to social revolution.

It was only with her work on The Accumulation of Capital (1912) that Rosa Luxemburg's economic theories became controversial. Although she claimed that this book grew out of complications arising in the course of her popular lectures on National Economy, namely, her inability to relate the total capitalist reproduction process to the postulated objective limits of capital production, it is clear from the work itself that it was also a reaction to the emasculation of Marxian theory initiated by the "Revisionism' that swept the socialist movement around the turn of the century. Revisionism operated on two levels: the primitive empirical level personified by Eduard Bernstein, (2) who merely compared the actual capitalist development with that deducible from Marxian theory, and the more sophisticated theoretical turnabout of academic marxism, culminating in Tugan-Baranowsky's (3) Marx-interpretation and those of his various disciples.

Only the first volume of Capital was published during Marx's lifetime, and the second and third were prepared by Friedrich Engels from unrevised papers left to his care, although they had been written prior to the publication of the first volume. Whereas the first volume deals with the capitalist process of production, the second concerns itself with the circulation process. The third volume, finally, deals with the capitalist system as a whole in its phenomenal form, as determined by its underlying value relations. Because the reproduction process necessarily controls the production process, Marx thought it useful to display this fact by means of some abstract reproduction diagrams in the second volume of Capital. The diagrams divide total social production into two sections: one producing means of production, the other means of consumption. The transactions between these two departments are imagined to be such as to enable the reproduction of the total social capital to proceed either on the same or on an enlarged scale. But what is a presupposition for the reproduction diagrams, namely, an allocation of the social labor as required for the reproduction process, must in reality first be brought about blindly, through the uncoordinated activities of the many individual capitals in their competitive pursuit of surplus-value.

The reproduction diagrams do not distinguish between values and prices; that is, they treat values as if they were prices. For the purpose they were intended to serve, namely, to draw attention to the need for a certain proportionality between the different spheres of production, the diagrams fulfill their pedagogical function. They do not depict the real world, but are instrumental in aiding in its under- standing. Restricted in this sense, it does not matter whether the interrelations of production and exchange are dressed in value or price terms. because the price form of value, taken up in the third volume of Capital, refers to the actual capitalist production and exchange process, the imaginary equilibrium conditions of Marx's reproduction diagrams do not refer to the real capitalist world. Still, Marx found it quite necessary to view the process of reproduction in its fundamental simplicity, in order to get rid of all obscuring interferences and dispose of the false subterfuges, which assume the semblance of scientific analysis, but which cannot be removed so long as the process of social reproduction is immediately analyzed in its concrete and complicated form.(4)

Actually, according to Marx, the reproduction process under capitalistic conditions pre cludes any kind of equilibrium and implies, instead, "the possibility of crises, since a balance is accidental under the conditions of this production... (5)Tugan-Baranowsky, however, read the reproduction diagrams differently because of their superficial resemblance to bourgeois equilibrium theory, the main tool of bourgeois price theory. He came to the conclusion that as long as the system develops proportionately with respect to its reproduction requirements, it does not have objective limits. Crises are caused by disproportionalities arising between the different spheres of production but can always be overcome through the restoration of that proportionality which assures the accumulation of capital. This was a disturbing idea, as far as Rosa Luxemburg was concerned, and this the more so as she could not deny the equilibrating implications of Marx's reproduction diagrams. If Tugan-Baranowsky interpreted them correctly, then Marx was wrong, because this interpretation denied the inevitable end of capitalism.

The discussion around Marx's abstract reproduction diagrams was particularly vehement in Russia because of earlier differences between the Marxists and the Populists with regard to Russia's future in face of her backwardness and her peculiar socio-economic institutions. Whereas the Populists asserted that for Russia it was already too late to enter into world competition with the established capitalist powers, and that, furthermore, it was quite possible to construct a socialist society on the basis of the not yet dissolved collectivity of peasant production, the Marxists maintained that development on the Western pattern was inescapable and that this development itself would produce the markets it required within Russia and in the world at large. The Marxists emphasized that it is the production of capital, not the satisfaction of consumption, that determines capitalist production. There is, therefore, no reason to assume that a restriction of consumption would retard the accumulation of capital; on the contrary, the less there is consumed, the faster capital would grow.

This "production for the sake of production" made no sense to Rosa Luxemburg -- not because she was unaware of the profit motive of capitalist production, which constantly strives to reduce the workers' share of social production, but because she could not see how the extracted surplus-value could be realized in money form in a market composed only of labor and capital, such as is depicted in the reproduction diagrams. Production has to go through the circulation process. It starts with money, invested in means of production and labor-power, and it ends with a greater amount of money in the hands of the capitalists, to be re-invested in another production cycle. Where would this additional money come from? In Rosa Luxemburg's view, it could not possibly come from the capitalists; for if it did, they would not be recipients of surplus-value but would pay with their own money for its commodity equivalent. Neither could it come from the purchases of the workers, who only receive the value of their labor power, leaving the surplus-value in its commodity form to the capitalists. To make the system workable, there must be a "third market,' apart from the exchange relations of labor and capital, in which the produced surplus-value could be transformed into additional money.

This aspect of the matter Rosa Luxemburg found missing in Marx. She intended to close the gap and therewith substantiate Marx's conviction of capitalism's necessary collapse. Although The Accumulation of Capital approaches the realization problem historically -- starting with classical economy and ending with Tugan-Baranowsky and his many imitators -- so as to show that this problem has always been the Achilles heel of political economy, her own solution of the problem comprises, in essence, no more than a misunderstanding of the relation between money and capital and a misreading of the Marxian text. As she presents matters, however, everything seemingly falls in its proper place: the dialectical nature of the capital-expansion process, as one merging out of the destruction of pre-capitalist economies; the necessary extension of this process to the world at large, as illustrated by the creation of the world market and rampant imperialism in search of markets for the realization of surplus-value; the resulting transformation of the world economy into a system resembling Marx's closed system of the reproduction diagram; and therewith, finally, the inevitable collapse of capitalism for lack of opportunities to realize its surplus-value.

Rosa Luxemburg was carried away by the logic of her own construction to the point of revising Marx more thoroughly than had been done by the Revisionists in their concept of a theoretically possible harmonious capital development, which, for them, turned socialism into a purely ethical problem and into one of social reform by political means. On the other hand, the Marxian reproduction diagrams, if read as a version of Say's Law of the identity of supply and demand, had to be rejected. Like her adversaries, Rosa Luxemburg failed to see that these diagrams have no connection at all with the question of the viability of the capitalist system, but are merely a methodologically determined, intermediary step in the analysis of the laws of motion of the capitalist system as a whole, which derives its dynamic from the production of surplus-value. Although capitalism is indeed afflicted with difficulties in the sphere of circulation and therewith in the realization of surplus-value, it is not here that Marx looked for, or found, the key to the understanding of capitalism's susceptibility to crises and to its inevitable end. Even on the assumption that there exists no problem at all with regard to the realization of surplus-value, capitalism finds its objective limits in those of the production of surplus-value.

According to Marx, capitalism's basic contradiction, from which spring all its other difficulties, is to be found in the value and surplus-value relations of capital production. It is the production of exchange-value in its monetary form, derived from the use-value form of labor-power, which produces, besides its own exchange-value equivalent, a surplus-value for the capitalists. The drive for exchange-value turns into the accumulation of capital, which manifests itself in a growth of capital invented in means of production relatively faster than that invested in labor-power. While this process expands the capitalist system, through the increasing productivity of labor associated with it, it also tends to reduce the rate of profit on capital, as that part of capital invested in labor-power -- which is the only source of surplus-value -- diminishes relative to the total social capital. This long and complicated process cannot be dealt with satisfactorily in this short article, but must at least be mentioned in order to differentiate Marx's theory of accumulation from that Rosa Luxemburg. In Marx's abstract model of capital development, capitalist crises, as well as the inevitable end of the system, find their source in the temporary or, finally, total breakdown in the accumulation process due to a lack of surplus-value or profit.

For Marx, then, the objective limits of capitalism are given by the social production relations as value relations, while for Rosa Luxemburg capitalism cannot exist at all, except through the absorption of its surplus-value by pro-capitalist economies. This implies the absurdity that these backward nations have a surplus in monetary form large enough to accommodate the surplus-value of the capitalistically advanced countries. But as already mentioned, this wrong idea was the unreflected consequence of Rosa Luxemburg's false notion that the whole of the surplus-value, earmarked for accumulation, must yield an equivalent in money form, in order to be realized as capital. Actually, of course, capital takes on the form of money at times and at other times that of commodities of all descriptions - all being expressed in money terms without simultaneously assuming the money form. Only a small and decreasing part of the capitalist wealth has to be in money form; the larger part,, although expressed in terms of money, remains in its commodity form and as such allows for the realization of surplus-value an additional capital.

Rosa Luxemburg's theory was quite generally regarded as an aberration and an unjustified criticism of Marx. Yet her critics were just as far removed from Marx's position as was Rosa Luxemburg herself. Most of theme critics adhered either to a crude underconsumption theory, a theory of disproportionality, or a combination of them. Lenin, for example -- not to speak of the Revisionists -- saw the cause for crises in the disproportionalities due to the anarchic character of capitalist production, and merely added to Tagan-Baranowsky's arguments that of the underconsumption of the workers. But in any case he did not believe that capitalism was bound to collapse because of its immanent contradictions. It was only with the first world war and the revolutionary upheavals in its wake that Rosa Luxemburg's theory found a wider response in the radical section of the socialist movement. Not so much, however, because of her particular analysis of capital accumulation, as because of her insistence upon the objective limits of capitalism. The imperialistic war gave her theory some plausibility and the end of capitalism seemed indeed actually at hand. The collapse of capitalism became the revolutionary ideology of the time and supported the abortive attempts to turn the political upheavals into social revolutions.

Of course, Rosa Luxemburg's theory was no less abstract than that of Marx. Marx's hypothesis of a tendency of the rate of profit to fall could not reveal at what particular point in time it would no longer be possible to compensate for this fall by an increasing exploitation of the relatively diminishing number of workers, which would increase the mass of surplus-value sufficiently to maintain a rate of profit assuring the further expansion of capital. Similarly, Rosa Luxemburg could not say at what time the completion of the capitalization of the world would exclude the realization of its surplus-value. The outward extension of capital was also only a tendency, implying a progressively more devastating imperialist competition for the diminishing territories in which surplus-value could be realized. The fact of imperialism showed the precariousness of the system, which could lead to revolutionary situations long before its objective limits were reached. For all practical purposes, then, both theories assumed the possibility of revolutionary actions, not because of the logical outcome of their abstract models of development, but because these theories pointed unmistakably to the increasing difficulties of the capitalist system, which could in any severe crisis transform the class struggle into a fight for the abolition of capitalism.

Although undoubtedly erroneous, Rosa Luxemburg's theory retained a revolutionary character because, like that of Marx, it led to the conclusion of the historical untenability of capitalism. Although with dubious arguments, she nonetheless restored -- against Revisionism, Reformism, and Opportunism -- the lost Marxian proposition that capitalism is doomed to disappear because of its own unbridgeable contradiction and that this end, though objectively determined, will be brought about by the revolutionary actions of the working class.

The overthrow of capitalism would make all theories of its development redundant. But while the system lasts, the realism of a theory may be judged by its own particular history. Whereas Marx's theory, despite attempts made in this direction, cannot be integrated into the body of bourgeois economic thought, Rosa Luxemburg's theory has found some recognition in bourgeois theory, albeit in a very distorted form. With the rejection by bourgeois economy itself of the conception of the market as an equilibrium mechanism, Rosa Luxemburg's theory found a kind of acceptance as a precursor of Keynesian economics. Her work has been interpreted, by Michael Kalecki (6) and Joan Robinson, (7) for example, as a theory of 'effective demand,' the lack of which presumably explains the recurrent capitalistic difficulties. Rosa Luxemburg imagined that imperialism, militarism, and preparation for war aided in the realization of surplus-value, via the transfer of purchasing power from the population at large to the hands of the state; just as modern Keynesianism attempted to reach full employment by way of deficit-financing and monetary manipulations. However, while it in no doubt possible, for a time, to achieve full employment in this fashion, it is not possible to maintain this state of bliss, as the laws of motion of capital production demand not a different distribution of the surplus-value but its constant increase. The lack of effective demand is only another term for the lack of accumulation, as the demand required for prosperous conditions is brought forth by nothing other than the expansion of capital. At any rate, the actual bankruptcy of Keynesianism makes it unnecessary to kill this theory theoretically. It suffices to say that its absurdity shows itself in the present-day unrelieved growth of both unemployment and inflation.

While Rosa Luxemburg did not fare well with her theory of accumulation, she was more successful in her consistent Internationalism, which was, of course, connected with her concept of accumulation as the global extension of the capitalist mode of production. In her view, imperialist competition was rapidly transforming the world into a capitalist world and thereby developing the unhampered confrontation of labor and capital. Whereas the rise of the bourgeoisie coincided with the formation of the modern nation-state, creating the ideology of nationalism, the maturity and decline of capitalism implied the imperialistic 'internationalism' of the bourgeoisie and therewith also the internationalism of the working classes, if they were to make their class struggles effective. The reformist integration of proletarian aspirations into the capitalist system led to social-imperialism, as the other side of the nationalistic coin. Objectively, there was nothing behind the frantically growing nationalism but the imperialist imperative. To oppose imperialism demanded, then a total rejection of all forms of nationalism, even that of the victims of imperialist aggression. Nationalism and imperialism were inseparable and had to fought with equal fervor.

In view of the at first covert but soon overt social-patriotism of the official labor movement, Rosa Luxemburg's internationalism represented the leftwing of this movement -- but not completely. In a way, it was a generalization of her specific experiences in the Polish socialist movement, which had been split on the question of national self-determination. As we already know from her work on the industrial development in Poland, Rosa Luxemburg expected a full integration of the Russian and Polish capitalism and a consequent unification of their respective socialist organizations, both as a practical and as a principled matter. She could not conceive of nationally oriented socialist movements and even less of a nationally restricted socialism. What was true for Russia and Poland also held for the world at large; national fissions had to be ended in the unity of international socialism.

The Bolshevik section of the Russian Social-Democratic Party did not share Rosa Luxemburg's strict internationalism. For Lenin, the subjugation of nationalities by stronger capitalist countries brought additional cleavages into the basic social frictions, which could, perhaps, be turned against the dominating powers. It is quite beside the point, to consider whether Lenin's advocacy of the self-determination of nations reflected a subjective conviction, or democratic attitude, with regard to special national needs and cultural peculiarities, or was simply a revulsion against all forms of oppression. Lenin was, first of all, a practical politician, even though he could fulfill this role only at a late hour. As a practical politician, he realized that the different nationalities within the Russian empire presented a steady threat to the Czarist regime.

To be sure, Lenin was also an internationalist and saw the socialist revolution in terms of the world revolution. But this revolution had to begin somewhere and he assumed that it would first break the weakest link in the chain of competing imperialist powers. In the Russian context, supporting the self-determination of nations, up to the point of secession, suggested the winning of "allies" in any attempt to overthrow Czarism. This strategy was supported by the hope that, once free, the different nationalities would elect to remain within the new Russian commonwealth, either out of self-interest, or through the urgings of their own socialist organizations.

Until the Russian Revolution, however, this whole discussion around the national question remained purely academic. Even after the revolution, the granting of self-determination to the various nationalities within Russia was not very meaningful, for most of the territories involved were occupied by foreign powers. Still, the Bolshevik regime continued to press for self-determination in order to weaken other imperialist nations, particularly England, in an attempt to foster colonial revolutions against Western capitalism, which threatened to destroy the Bolshevik state.

The Russian Revolution found Rosa Luxemburg in a German prison, where she remained until the overthrow of the German monarchy. But she was able to follow the progress of the Russian Revolution. Though delighted by the Bolshevik seizure of power, she could not accept Lenin's policies towards the peasants and with respect to the national minorities. In both cases she worried needlessly. Although her prediction that the granting of self-determination to the various nationalities within Russia would merely surround the new state with a cordon of reactionary counter-revolutionary countries, turned out to be correct, this was so only for the short run. Rosa Luxemburg failed to see that it was the principle of self-determination which dictated Bolshevik policy with regard to the Russian nationalities, than the force of circumstances over which the Bolsheviks had no control. At the first opportunity they began whittling away at the self-determination of nations, to end by incorporating all the new independent nations in a restored Russian empire, and, in addition, by forging for themselves spheres of interest in extra-Russian territories.

On the strength of her own theory of nationalism and imperialism, Rosa Luxemburg should have realized that Lenin's theory could not be actualized, in a world of competing imperialist powers and would, most probably, not need to be put into practice should capitalist be brought down by an international revolution. The disintegration of the Russian empire was not due to or aided by the principle of self-determination, but was effected through the loss of the war; as it was the winning of another war, which led to the recovery of previously lost territory and to a revival of Russian imperialism. Capitalism is an expansive system and therefore necessarily imperialistic. It is the capitalistic way of overcoming national limitations to capital production and its centralization -- of gaining, or securing, privileged or dominating positions within the world economy. It in thus also a defense against this general trend; but in all cases, it is the inescapable result of capital accumulation.

As Rosa Luxemburg pointed out, the contradictory capitalist 'integration' of the world economy cannot alter the domination of weaker by stronger nations through the latter's control of the world market. This situation makes real national independence illusory. what political independence can accomplish, at best, is no more than the subjugation of the workers under native instead of international control. Of course, proletarian internationalism cannot prevent, nor has it reason to prevent, movements for national self-determination within the colonial and imperialistic context. These movements are part of capitalist society just an imperialism is. But to 'utilize' these movements for socialism can only mean to try to deprive them of their nationalist character through a consistent internationalism on the part of the socialist movement. Although oppressed people have the sympathy of the socialists, it does not relate to their emergent nationalism but to their particular plight as twice-oppressed people, suffering from both native and foreign exploitation. The socialist task in the ending of capitalism, which includes the support of anti-imperialist forces; not, however, to create new capitalistic nation-states, but to make their emergence more difficult, or impossible, through proletarian revolutions in the advanced capitalist countries.

The Bolshevik regime declared itself socialistic and by that token was to end all discrimination of national minorities. Under such conditions, national self-determination was, in Rosa Luxemburg's eyes, not only senseless but an invitation to revive, via the ideology of nationalism, the conditions for a capitalist restoration. In her view, Lenin and Trotsky mistakenly sacrificed the principle of internationalism for momentary tactical advantage. While perhaps unavoidable, it should not be elevated into a socialist virtue. Rosa Luxemburg was right, of course, in not questioning the Bolshevik's subjective sincerity as regards the establishment of socialism in Russia and the furthering of the world revolution. She herself thought it possible, by way of a westward extension of the revolution, to defy the objective unripeness of Russia for a socialist transformation. She blamed the West European socialists, and in particular the Germans, for the difficulties the Bolsheviks encountered, which forced them into concessions, compromises, and opportunist actions. And she assumed that the internationalization of the revolution would do away with Lenin's nationalistic demands and resurrect the principle of internationalism in the revolutionary movement.

As the world revolution did not materialize, the nation-state remained the field of operation for economic development as well as for the class struggle. The "internationalism" of the Third International, under Russian dominance, served strictly Russian state interests, covered up by the idea that the defense of the first socialist state was a prerequisite for international socialism. Like national self-determination, this type of "internationalism" was designed to weaken the adversaries of the new Russian state. After 1920, however, the Bolsheviks no longer expected a resumption of the world-revolutionary process, and settled down for the consolidation of their own regime. Their 'internationalism' expressed now their own nationalism, just as the economic internationalism of the bourgeoisie serves no other end than the enrichment of nationally-organized capital entities.

The result of the second world war and its aftermath ended the colonialism of the European powers and led to the formation of numerous 'independent' nations; while, at the same time, two great power blocs emerged, dominated by the victorious nations Russia and the United States. Within each bloc there was no real national independence but rather the subordination of the nominally self-determined countries to the imperialistic requirements of the leading powers. This subordination was enforced by both economic and political means and by the general necessity to adapt the economies and therewith the political life of the satellite nations to the realities of the capitalist world market.

For the former colonies this implied a new form of subjugation and dependence, which found its expression in the term neo-colonialism; for the reborn, capitalistically more-advanced nations it implied the direct control of their political structure through the proven methods of military occupation and puppet governments. This situation led, of course, to new "liberation movements" not only in the capitalist but also in the so-called socialist camp, providing the proof that there is no such thing as national self-determination, either in the market-controlled or the state-controlled economies.

That nationalism is really a vehicle upholding the ruling class was soon made evident in all liberated nations, as it provided political parvenus with an instrument for their own emergence as new ruling classes, in collaboration with the ruling classes of the dominating countries. Whether these now ruling classes adhere to the 'free world' or to the authoritarian part of the world, in either case the national form, on which their rule in based, precludes any stop towards a socialist society. Wherever possible, their nationalism implies a fervent, even if miniature, imperialism, which sets 'socialist nations' against other nations, including other 'socialist nations.' Thus we have the sorry spectacle of a threatening war between the great 'socialist countries' Russia and China, and, on a smaller scale, the open warfare between 'Marxist' Ethiopia and "Marxist' Somalia for the control of Ogaden.

With some variations, this story can be prolonged almost endlessly, characterizing the present state of world politics, in which small nations act as proxies for the great imperialist powers, or fight on their own behalf, only to fall victim to one or another power bloc. All this substantiates Rosa Luxemburg's contention that all forms of nationalism are detrimental to socialism and that only a consistent internationalism can aid the emancipation of the working class. This unwavering internationalism is one of her greatest contributions to revolutionary theory and practice and sets her far apart from both the social-imperialism of Social Democracy and the Bolshevik opportunist concept of world revolution as advocated by its. great 'statesman' Lenin.

Like Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg looked upon the October Revolution as a proletarian revolution which, however, depended fully upon international events. At the time this view was shared by all revolutionaries whether Marxist or not. After all, as she said, by seizing power the Bolsheviks had "for the first time proclaimed the final aim of socialism as the direct program of practical policies" (8) They had solved the "famous problem of winning a majority of the people, by revolutionary tactics that led to a majority, instead of waiting for the latter to evolve a revolutionary tactic." (9) In her view, Lenin's party had grasped the true interests of the urban masses by demanding all power for the Soviets in order to secure the revolution. Still, the agrarian question was the axis of the revolution and here the Bolsheviks showed themselves as opportunistic in their policies as with regard to the national minorities.

In pre-revolutionary Russia the Bolsheviks had shared with Rosa Luxemburg the Marxist position that the land must be nationalized as a prerequisite for the organization of large-scale agricultural production in conformity with the socialization of industry. In order to gain the support of the peasants, Lenin abandoned the Marxist agricultural program in favor of that of the Social-Revolutionaries -- the heirs of the old Populist movement. Although Rosa Luxemburg recognized this turnabout as an 'excellent tactic,' for her it had nothing to do with the quest for socialism. Property rights must be turned over to the nation, or the state, for only then is it possible to organize agricultural production on a socialistic base. The Bolshevik slogan "immediate seizure and distribution of the land by the peasants" was not a socialist measure, but one which, by creating a new form of private property, cut off the way to such measures. "The Leninist agrarian reform," she wrote, "has created a now and powerful layer of popular enemies of socialism in the countryside, enemies whose resistance will be much more dangerous and stubborn than that of the noble large landowners." (10)

This proved to be a fact, hampering both the restoration of the Russian economy and the socialization of industry. But, as in the case of national self-determination, here too the situation was determined not by the Bolsheviks' policy but by circumstances beyond their control. The Bolsheviks were prisoners of the peasant movement; they could not hold power except with its passive support, and they could not proceed towards socialism because of the peasants. Moreover, their sly opportunism did not initiate the peasants' seizure of the land, but merely ratified an accomplished fact, independent of their own attitude. While other parties hesitated to legalize the expropriation of land, the Bolsheviks favored it, in order to win the support of the peasants and thus to consolidate the power they had won by a coup d'etat in the urban centers. They hoped to maintain this support by a policy of low taxation, while the peasants required a government which would prevent a return of the landlords by way of counter-revolution.

As far as the peasants were concerned, the revolution involved the extension of property rights and was, in this sense, a bourgeois revolution. It could only lead to a market-economy and the enhanced capitalization of Russia. For the industrial workers, as for Lenin and Luxemburg, it was a proletarian revolution even at this early stage of capitalist development. But as the industrial working class formed only a minuscule part of the population, it seemed clear that sooner or later the bourgeois element within the revolution would gain the upper hand. Bolshevik state-power could only be hold by arbitrating between these contrary interests but success in this endeavor would negate both the socialist and the bourgeois aspirations within the revolution.

This was a situation not foreseen by the Marxist movement and not predictable in terms of Marxian theory, which held that the proletarian revolution presupposes a high capitalistic development in which the working class finds itself in the majority and thus able to determine the course of events. While Lenin was not interested in a bourgeois revolution, except as a preliminary to a socialist revolution, he was a bourgeois in that he was convinced that it was possible to change society by purely political means, that is, by the will of a political party. This idealistic reversal of Marxism, with consciousness determining the material development instead of being produced by it, implied in practice no more than a copying of the Czarist regime itself, in which the autocracy had ruled over the whole of society. In fact, Lenin insisted that if the Czar could govern Russia with the aid of a bureaucracy of a few hundred thousand men, the Bolsheviks should be able to do likewise and better with a Party exceeding this number. In any case, once in power the Bolsheviks had no choice but to try to maintain it in order to defend their sheer existence. In the course of time there emerged a state apparatus which took upon itself the authoritarian control not only of the population but also of economic development, by turning private property into state property without changing the social relations of production -- that is, by maintaining the capital-labor relations that allow for the exploitation of the working class. This new type of capitalism -- properly called state-capitalism -- persists to the present day in the ideological dress of 'socialism."

In 1918, Rosa Luxemburg could not envision this development, as it lay outside of all Marxist assumptions. For her, the Bolsheviks were making various mistakes, which might endanger their socialist goal. And if these mistakes were unavoidable within the context of the isolated Russian Revolution, they should not be generalized into a revolutionary tactic for times to come and for all nations to follow. However helplessly, she opposed the Russian reality with Marxian principles, so as at least to save the Marxian theory. Bat it was all in vain, for it turned out that private-party capitalism is not necessarily followed by a socialist regime, but could be transformed into a state-controlled capitalism, wherein the old bourgeoisie was replaced by a new ruling class, whose power is based on its collective control of the state and the means of production. She knew as little as Lenin how to go about building a socialist society, but while the latter proceeded pragmatically from the experiences of wartime state-controls of capitalist nations and envisioned socialism as the state-monopoly over all economic activity, Rosa Luxemburg persisted in proclaiming that such a state of affairs could not emancipate the working class. She could not imagine that the emerging Bolshevik society represented a historically new social formation, but saw in it no more than a false application of socialist principles. And thus she feared a possible restoration of capitalism by way of the agrarian reforms of Bolshevism.

As it turned out, the agrarian question agitated the Bolshevik state unceasingly, finally leading to the compulsory collectivization of the peasantry as an in-between solution between private-property relations on the land and the nationalization of agriculture. This was no real repudiation of Lenin's peasant policies, which had been based on necessity, not on conviction. Except on paper, Lenin simply did not dare to nationalize the land, and Stalin did not dare more than the forced collectivizations of the peasants, in order to increase their production and exploitation, without depriving them of all private initiative. Even so, this was a frightful undertaking which almost destroyed, the Bolshevik regime. If Rosa Luxemburg was right against Lenin with respect to the peasant question, her arguments were nonetheless beside the point, for it was just a question of time, and of the strength of the state apparatus before the peasants would lose their newly-won relative independence and fall once more under the control of an authoritarian regime.

It should have been evident from Lenin's concept of the party and its role in the revolutionary process that, once in power, this party could only function in a dictatorial way. Quite apart from the specific Russian conditions, the idea of the party as the consciousness of the socialist revolution clearly relegated all decision-making power into the hands of the Bolshevik state apparatus. This general assumption found an even sharper accentuation in the Russian Revolution, divided, as it was, in its bourgeois and proletarian aspirations. If the proletariat was not able, according to Lenin, to develop more than a trade-union consciousness (that is, to fight for its interests within the capitalist system) it would certainly be even more unable to realize socialism, which presupposes an ideological break with all its previous experience. Echoing Karl Kautsky, Lenin was convinced that socialist consciousness had to be brought to the proletariat from the outside, through the knowledge of the educated middle class. The party was the organization of the socialist intelligentsia, representing revolutionary consciousness for the proletariat, even though it might also include a sprinkling of intelligent workers in its ranks. It was necessary that these specialists in revolutionary politics become the masters of the socialist state, if only to prevent the defeat of the working class through its own ignorance. And as the party was to lead the proletariat, so the leadership of the party was to lead its members by way of a semi-militaristic centralization.

It was this arrogant attitude of Lenin, pressed upon HIS party, which made Rosa Luxemburg quite wary about the possible outcome of the Bolsheviks' seizure of power. Already in 1904 she had attacked the Bolshevik party concept for both its artificial separation of a revolutionary vanguard from the mass of the workers and for its ultra-centralization in general, as well as in party affairs in particular. "Nothing will more surely enslave a young labor movement to an intellectual elite hungry for power," she wrote, than this bureaucratic strait-jacket, which will immobilize the movement and turn it into an automaton manipulated Central Committee. (11) By denying the revolutionary character of Lenin's party concept, Rosa Luxemburg prefigured the actual course of Bolshevik rule down to the present day. To be sure, her indictment of Lenin's organizational ideas was based on their confrontation with the organizational structure of the Social Democratic Party, which, though highly centralized, aspired to a broad mass basis for its evolutionary work. This party did not think in terms of seizing power, but was satisfied with its electoral successes and the spreading of the socialist ideology as a basis for its: growth. In any case, Rosa Luxemburg not believe that any type of party could bring about a socialist revolution. The party could only be an aid to revolution, which remained the privilege and required the activities of the whole working class. She did not see the socialist party as an independent organizer of the proletariat, but as part of it, with no functions or interests differing from those of the working class.

With this conviction, Rosa Luxemburg was only true to herself and to Marxism when she raised her voice against the dictatorial policies of the Bolshevik party. Although this party reached its dominating position via the demagogic demand for the sole rule of the Soviets, it had no intention of delegating any power to the Soviets, except, perhaps, where they were composed of Bolsheviks. It is true that the Bolsheviks in Petrograd and a few other cities held a majority of the Soviets, but this situation might change again and return the party to the minority position it had held during the first months after the February Revolution. The Bolsheviks did not look upon the soviets as organs of an emerging socialist society, but saw in them no more than a vehicle for the formation of a Bolshevik government. Already in 1905, which saw-the first rise of the Soviets, Lenin recognized their revolutionary potential, which, however, gave him only one more reason to strengthen his own party and prepare it for the reins of government. To Lenin, the latent revolutionary power of the Soviet form of organization did not change its spontaneous nature, which implied the danger of the dissipation of this power in fruitless activities. Although a part of social reality, spontaneous movements could, in Lenin's view, at best support but never supplant a goal-directed party. In October 1917, the question for the Bolsheviks was not one of choosing between Soviet- and party-rule, but between the latter and the Constituent Assembly. As there was no chance of winning a majority in the Assembly and thus gaining the it was necessary to dispense with realize the party dictatorship in the proletariat.

Although Rosa Luxemburg held that in one fashion or another the whole mass of people must take part in the construction of socialism, she did not recognize the soviets as typifying the organizational form which would make this possible. Impressed as she was in 1905 by the great mass-strikes taking place in Russia, she paid little attention to their soviet form of organization. In her eyes, the soviets were merely strike committees in the absence of other more permanent labor organizations. Even after the 1917 Revolution she felt that "the practical realization of socialism and an economic, social and juridical system is something which lies completely hidden in the mists of the future." (12) Only the general direction in which to move was known, not the detailed concrete steps that had to be taken to consolidate and develop the new society. Socialism could not be derived from ready-made plans and realized by governmental decree. There must be the widest participation on the part of the workers, that is, a real democracy, and it was precisely this democracy which alone could be designated as the dictatorship of the proletariat. A party-dictatorship was for her no more than "a dictatorship in the bourgeois sense,, in the sense of the rule of the Jacobins." (13)

All this is undoubtedly true, on the general level, but the bourgeois character of Bolshevik rule reflected -- ideologically as well as practically -- the objectively non-socialistic nature of this particular revolution, which simply could not proceed from the quasi-feudal conditions of Czarism to a socialist society. It was a sort of 'bourgeois revolution' without the bourgeoisie, as it was a proletarian revolution without a sufficiently large proletariat: a revolution in which the historical functions of the bourgeoisie were taken up by an apparently anti-bourgeois party by means of its assumption of political power. Under these conditions, the revolutionary content of Western marxism was not applicable, not even in a modified form. This may explain the vacuity of Rosa Luxemburg's arguments against the Bolsheviks, her complaints about their disrespect for the Constituent Assembly and their terroristic acts against all opposition whether from the right or the left. Her own suggestions as how to go about with the building of socialism, however correct and praiseworthy, would not fit in with a Constituent Assembly, which is itself a bourgeois institution. Her tolerance towards all points of view and their wishes to express themselves in order to influence the course of events, cannot be realized under civil-war conditions. The construction of socialism cannot be left to a leisurely trial-and-error method by which the future may be discerned in the 'mists' of the present, but is dictated by current necessities that call for definite actions.

Rosa Luxemburg's lack of realism with regard to Bolshevism and the Russian Revolution may be traced to ambiguities of her own. On the one hand she was a social democrat and on the other a revolutionary, at a time when both positions had fallen apart. She looked upon Russia with social-democratic eyes and upon Social Democracy with revolutionary eyes; what she desired was a revolutionary-Social Democracy. Already in her famous debate with Eduard Bernstein, (14) she refused to choose between reform and revolution but endeavored to combine both activities in dialectical fashion in one and the same policy. In her view, it was possible to wage the class struggle in both the parliament and in the streets, not only through the party and the trade-unions but with the unorganized as well. The legal foothold gained within bourgeois democracy was to be secured by the direct actions of the masses in their everyday wage struggles. It was the masses' actions, however, which were most important, as they increased the masses' awareness of their class position and thereby their revolutionary consciousness. The direct struggle of the workers against the capitalists was the real 'school of socialism.' In the spreading of mass-strikes, in which the workers acted as a class, she saw the necessary precondition for the coming revolution, which would topple the bourgeoisie and install governments supported and controlled by the mature class -- conscious proletariat."

Until the outbreak of the first world war, Rosa Luxemburg did not fully comprehend the true nature of Social Democracy. There was a right wing, a center, and a left wing, Liebknecht and Luxemburg representing the latter. There was an ideological struggle between these tendencies, tolerated by the party bureaucracy because it remained purely ideological. The practice of the party was reformist and opportunistic, untouched by the left-wing rhetoric, if not indirectly aided by it. But there was the illusion that the party could be changed and restored to the revolutionary character of its origins. Suggestions to split the party were rejected by Rosa Luxemburg, who feared to lose contact with the bulk of the socialist workers. Her confidence in these workers was not affected by her lack of confidence in their leaders. She was thus more than surprised that the social-chauvinism displayed in 1914 united leaders and led against the party's left. Even so, she was not ready to leave the party until its split in 1917 on the issue of war aims, which led to the formation of the Independent Socialist Party (USPD), in which the Spartacus League, composed of a circle of people around Liebknecht, Luxemburg, Mehring, and Jogiches, formed a small faction. In so far as this faction engaged in independent activities, these were a matter of propaganda against the war and the class-collaborationist policies of the old party. Only near the end of 1918 did Rosa Luxemburg recognize the need for a new revolutionary party and a new International.

The German Revolution of 1918 was not the product of any left-wing organization, though members of all organizations played various parts in it. It was a strictly political upheaval to end the war and to remove the monarchy held responsible for it. It occurred as a consequence of the German military defeat and was not seriously opposed by the bourgeoisie and the military, for it allowed them to place the onus of the defeat upon the socialist movement. This revolution brought Social Democracy into the government, which then proceeded to ally itself with the military, in order to crush any attempt to turn the political into a social revolution. Still under the away of tradition and the old reformist ideology, the majority of the spontaneously-arising workers' and soldiers' councils supported the social-democratic government and declared their readiness to abdicate in favor of a National Assembly within the frame of bourgeois democracy. This revolution, it has been aptly said, "was a Social Democratic revolution, suppressed by the Social Democratic leaders: a process hardly paralleled in the history of the world." (16) There was also a revolutionary minority, to be sure, advocating and fighting for the formation of a social system of workers' councils as a permanent institution; but this was soon systematically subdued by the military forces arrayed against it. To organize this revolutionary minority for sustained actions, the Spartacus League, in collaboration with other revolutionary groups, transformed itself into the Communist Party of Germany. Its program was written by Rosa Luxemburg.

Already at its founding congress, it became clear that the new party was internally split. Even at this late hour Rosa Luxemburg was not able to break totally with social-democratic traditions. Although she declared that the time for a minimum program short of socialism had passed, she still adhered to the politics of the double perspective, that in, to the view that the uncertainty of an early proletarian revolution demanded the consideration of policies defined within the given, social institutions and organizations. In practice this meant participation in the National Assembly and in trade unions. However, the majority of the congress voted in favor of anti-parliamentarism and for a struggle against the trade unions. Although reluctantly, Rosa Luxemburg bowed to this decision and wrote and acted in its spirit. As she was murdered only two weeks later, it is not possible to say whether or not she would have stuck to this position. In any cage, encouraged by Lenin, via his eminary Radek, her disciples soon split the new party and merged its parliamentary section with a part of the Independent Socialists to form a "truly Bolshevik Party;" this time, however, as a mass-organization in the social-democratic sense, competing with the old Social Democratic Party for the allegiance of the workers, in order to forge an instrument for the defense of Bolshevik Russia.

But all this is history. The failed revolutions in Central Europe, and the state-capitalistic development in Russia, overcame the political crisis of capitalism that followed the first world war. Its economic difficulties were not so overcome, and led-to a now world-wide crisis and the second world war. Because the ruling classes -- old and now -- remembered the revolutionary repercussions in the wake of the first world war, they defeated their possible recurrence in advance by the direct means of military occupation. The enormous destruction of capital and its further centralization by way of war, an well as the raising of the productivity of labor, allowed for a great upswing of capital production after the second war. This implied an almost total eclipse of revolutionary aspirations, save those of a strictly nationalist and state-capitalist character.

This effect was strengthened by the development of the 'mixed economy,' nationally as well as internationally, wherein governments influenced economic activities. Like all things of the past, Marxism became an academic discipline -- an indication of its decline as a theory of social change. Social Democracy ceased to see itself as a working class organization, but rather as a people's party, ready to fulfill governmental functions for capitalist society. Communist organizations took over the classic role of Social Democracy -- and also its readiness to form, or to partake in, governments upholding the capitalist system. The labor movement-divided into Bolshevism and Social Democracy, which had been Rosa Luxemburg's concern -- ceased to exist.

Still, capitalism remains susceptible to crises and collapse. In view of present methods of destruction, it may destroy itself in another conflagration. But it may also be overcome by way of class struggles leading to its socialist transformation. The alternative enunciated by Rosa Luxemburg -- socialism or barbarism -- retains its validity. The current state of the labor movement, which lacks any revolutionary inclinations, makes it clear that a socialist future depends more on spontaneous actions of the working class as a whole, than on ideological anticipations of such a future which may find expression in newly-arising revolutionary organizations. In this situation, there is not much to be learned from previous experiences, except the negative lesson that neither Social Democracy nor Bolshevism had any bearing on the problems of the proletarian revolution. By opposing both, however, inconsistently, Rosa Luxemburg opened up another road towards the socialist revolution. Despite some false notions, with respect to theory and some illusions regarding socialist practice, her revolutionary impulse yielded the essential elements required for a socialist revolution: an unwavering internationalism and the principle of the self-determination of the working class within its organizations and within society. By taking seriously the dictum that the emancipation of the proletariat can only be its, own work, she bridged the revolutionary past with the revolutionary future. Her ideas thus remain as alive as the idea of revolution itself, while all her adversaries in the old labor movement have become part and parcel of the decaying capitalist society.

Paul Mattick

From Root and Branch #6, 1978


1. For biographical information, see John P. Nettl, "Rosa Luxemburg", 2 vols. (London: Oxford University Press, 1966).

2. Eduard Bernstein, "Die Voraussetzungen des Sozialismas und die Aufgaben der Sozialdemokratie", translated as "Evolutionary Socialism" (1899; NY: Schocken, 1961)

3. Mikhail I. Tugan-Baranowsky, "Die Theoretischen Grundlagen des Marxismus" [The Theoretical Foundations of Marxism] (Leipzig: Duncker and Humblot, 1905).

4. Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 2, "The Process of Circulation of Capital" (1885; Chicago: Charles Kerr, 1926), p. 532.

5. ibid., p. 578.

6. Michael Kalecki, 'The Problem of Effective Demand with Tagan-Baranowsky and Rosa Luxemburg.'

7. Joan Robinson, Introduction to Rosa Luxemburg, "The Accumulation of Capital" (1913; London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1951).

8. Luxemburg, "The Russian Revolution" (1922), in "The Russian Revolution and Leninism or Marxism?" (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1961), p. 39.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Luxemburg, "Organizational Questions of Russian Social Democracy" (1904), Ibid., p. 102.

12. Luxemburg, "The Russian Revolution," Ibid.# p. 69.

13. Ibid., p. 72

14. Luxemburg, "Social Reform or Revolution" (1899; NY: Pathfinder, 1973).

15. Luxemburg, "The Mass Strike, the Political Party, and the Trade Unions" (1906; NY: Harper and Row, 1971).

16. Sebastian Haffner, "Failure of a Revolution" (NY: Library Press, 1972), p. 12.

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Rosa Luxemburg: revolutionary hero

Saturday, January 17, 2009 - 11:00

Rosa Luxemburg, one of the great figures of the socialist movement, was callously murdered in Berlin on January 15, 1919.

By cruelly smashing her brains out with a rifle butt, the German social democrats who ordered her killing silenced one of the socialist movement's most articulate voices and one of the most passionate defenders of the right of workers to revolt.

Born in 1871 in the provincial Polish town of Zamosc, she joined the underground revolutionary movement at age 16.

Within two years the police chased her into exile in Switzerland. It is said that she managed to talk a reactionary priest into helping her escape by pretending that her Jewish parents were preventing her from marrying a Catholic.

In Switzerland she studied economics and natural sciences and honed her theoretical skills in the intense debates raging in emigre Marxist circles.

When she joined the German Social Democratic party (SPD) in 1898 she debated with Eduard Bernstein, an established SPD leader who denied Marxism was a revolutionary doctrine.

Her incisive articles on the subject were published together in a famous pamphlet - widely known today as Reform or Revolution.

In 1903 she debated with Lenin, differing with him on the Marxist attitude to the right of nations to self-determination.

In 1904 her political work was briefly interrupted when she was jailed for "insulting the Kaiser".

She fully supported the 1905 Russian revolution and wrote numerous articles in its defence publications for her Polish comrades. Marrying action with her words she clandestinely entered Poland (then still part of the Russian Imperial empire) and worked underground until she was captured in 1906. Luckily, her German nationality allowed her to be released after only four months imprisonment.

Generalising from the 1905 Russian experience she concluded: "The mass strike is the first natural spontaneous form of every great revolutionary proletarian action." Her commitment to the revolutionary spirit of workers in action was her distinguishing feature.

She attempted to theoretically underpin her attitude to imperialist plunder by analysing the international development of capitalism in a major work on economics titled The Accumulation of Capital: A Contribution to the Economic Explanation of Imperialism. Her analysis, though flawed, showed that she was grappling with exactly the same question that Lenin was able to master in his Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism.

Six months before the outbreak of World War I, Luxemburg was arrested again for inciting soldiers to mutiny. She had told the troops that if they were ordered to "murder our French or other foreign brothers" they should answer "no, under no circumstances".

Her courtroom speech, in which she turned the tables on her prosecutors, was later published as Militarism, War and the Working Class, is an anti-imperialist classic.

She received a year long sentence, but was not immediately locked up. She simply left the courtroom and repeated her revolutionary anti-war statements at a mass meeting!

When WWI broke out the entire SPD leadership capitulated to the war fever. Her famous 1915 Junius Pamphlet — a denunciation of the war written from her prison cell — still stands as a monument to the civilising call of socialism in the face of imperialist war.

She devastatingly wrote: "Bourgeois society faces a dilemma; either a transition to Socialism, or a return to barbarism ... we face the choice: either the victory of imperialism and the decline of all culture, as in ancient Rome — annihilation, devastation, degeneration, a yawning graveyard; or the victory of Socialism — the victory of the international working class consciously assaulting imperialism and its method: war. This is the dilemma of world history, either — or; the die will be cast by the class-conscious proletariat."

The October 1917 Bolshevik revolution inspired Luxemburg immensely, even though, true to form, she still maintained a certain intellectual distance from the Bolsheviks.

Freed from prison by rebellious German workers in November 1918, Luxemburg threw herself into the work of building the revolutionary movement. Unfortunately, her right wing SPD ex-comrades were ruthlessly suppressing all dissent, organising bands of armed thugs to attack the workers movement.

Hours before her murder Rosa Luxemburg wrote: "The leadership has failed. Even so, the leadership can and must be recreated from the masses and out of the masses. The masses are the decisive element, they are the rock on which the final victory of the revolution will be built."

1918: The revolution criticises its errors, Part 1

Submitted by WorldRevolution on May 5, 2008 - 20:07.

Faced with all the conflicting arguments about the Russian revolution, it is difficult to steer an even course between the predominant view - that the revolution was a total disaster for humanity and inexorably led to the horrors of Stalinism - and the less fashionable but equally uncritical portrayals of Lenin and the Bolsheviks as superheroes who never made any errors. For our part, we follow the method of Rosa Luxemburg in her pamphlet The Russian Revolution: total solidarity with the October insurrection as the first step in the world revolution, but without the slightest hesitation to criticise the mistakes that were made by the Bolsheviks almost immediately after they came to power. What follows is the first section of an article originally published in International Review 99 in 1999, 4th quarter. This section focuses on the strengths and weaknesses of Luxemburg's pamphlet.

Rosa Luxemburg and the Russian revolution

Marxism is first and foremost a critical method, since it is the product of a class which can only emancipate itself through the ruthless criticism of all existing conditions. A revolutionary organisation that fails to criticise its errors, to learn from its mistakes, inevitably exposes itself to the conservative and reactionary influences of the dominant ideology. And this is all the more true at a time of revolution, which by its very nature has to break new ground, enter an unknown landscape with little more than a compass of general principles to find its way. The revolutionary party is all the more necessary after the victorious insurrection, because it has the strongest grasp of this compass, which is based on the historical experience of the class and the scientific approach of marxism. But if it renounces the critical nature of this approach, it will both lose sight of these historical lessons and be unable to draw the new ones that derive from the groundbreaking events of the revolutionary process. As we shall see, one of the consequences of the Bolshevik party identifying itself with the Soviet state was that it increasingly lost this capacity to criticise itself and the general course of the revolution. But as long as it remained a proletarian party it continuously generated minorities who did continue to carry out this task. The heroic combat of these Bolshevik minorities will be the main focus of the next few articles. But we will begin by examining the contribution of a revolutionary who was not in the Bolshevik party: Rosa Luxemburg, who, in 1918, in the most trying of conditions, wrote her essay The Russian Revolution, which provides us with the best possible method for approaching the errors of the revolution: the sharpest criticism based on unflinching solidarity in the face of the assaults of the ruling class.

The Russian Revolution was written in prison, just prior to the outbreak of the revolution in Germany. At this stage, with the imperialist war still raging, it was extraordinarily difficult to obtain any accurate information about what was happening in Russia - not only because of the material obstacles to communication resulting from the war (not to mention Luxemburg's imprisonment), but above all because from the very start the bourgeoisie did everything it could to hide the truth of the Russian revolution behind a smokescreen of slander and bloodthirsty fabulation. The essay was not published in Luxemburg's lifetime; Paul Levi, on behalf of the Spartacus League, had already visited Rosa in prison to persuade her that, given all the vicious campaigns against the Russian revolution, publishing articles criticising the Bolsheviks would add grist to these campaigns. Luxemburg agreed with him, and so sent the essay to Levi with a note saying "I am writing this only for you and if I can convince you, then the effort isn't wasted" (Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, Pathfinder Press, p 366). The text was not published until 1922 - and by then Levi's motives for doing so were far from revolutionary (for Levi's growing break with communism, see the article on the March Action in Germany in International Review no.93).

Nevertheless, the method of criticism contained in The Russian Revolution is entirely in the right spirit. From the very start, Luxemburg staunchly defends the October revolution against the Kautskyite/ Menshevik theory that because Russia was such a backward country, it should have stopped short at the "democratic" stage, showing that only the Bolsheviks were able to uncover the real alternative: bourgeois counter-revolution or proletarian dictatorship. And she simultaneously refutes the social democratic argument that formal majorities have to be obtained before revolutionary policies can be applied. Against this deadening parliamentary logic she praises the revolutionary audacity of the Bolshevik vanguard: "As bred-in-the bone disciples of parliamentary cretinism, these German Social-Democrats have sought to apply to revolutions the homemade wisdom of the parliamentary nursery: in order to carry out anything you must first have a majority. The same, they say, applies to revolution: first let's become a ‘majority'. The true dialectic of revolution, however, stands this wisdom of parliamentary moles on its head: not through a majority to revolutionary tactics, but through revolutionary tactics to a majority - that is the way the road runs.

Only a party which knows how to lead, that is, to advance things, wins support in stormy times. The determination with which, at the decisive moment, Lenin and his comrades offered the only solution which could advance things (‘all power in the hands of the proletariat and peasantry') transformed them overnight from a persecuted, slandered, outlawed minority whose leaders had to hide like Marat in cellars, into the absolute master of the situation" (ibid, p 374-5).

And, like the Bolsheviks, Luxemburg was perfectly well aware that this bold policy of insurrection in Russia could only have any meaning as a first step towards the world proletarian revolution. This is the whole significance of the famous concluding words of her text: "theirs is the immortal historical service of having marched at the head of the international proletariat with the conquest of political power and the practical placing of the problems of the realisation of socialism, and of having advanced mightily the settlement of the score between capital and labour in the entire world. In Russia the problem could only be posed. It could not be solved in Russia. And in this sense, the future everywhere belongs to ‘Bolshevism'" (ibid, p395).

And this solution was, in Luxemburg's mind, entirely concrete: it demanded that the German proletariat above all must fulfil its responsibility and come to the aid of the proletarian bastion in Russia by making the revolution itself. This process was under way even as she wrote, although her assessment, in this very essay, of the relative political immaturity of the German working class was also an insight into the tragic fate of this attempt.

Luxemburg was therefore well placed to develop the necessary criticisms of what she saw as the principal errors of the Bolsheviks: she judged them not from the detached heights of an "observer", but as a revolutionary comrade who recognised that these errors were first and foremost the product of the immense difficulties that isolation imposed on the Soviet power in Russia. Indeed, it is precisely these difficulties that required the real friends of the Russian revolution to approach it not with "uncritical apologetics" or a "revolutionary hurrah spirit", but with "penetrating and thoughtful criticism": "Dealing as we are with the very first experiment in proletarian dictatorship in world history (and one taking place at that under the harshest conceivable conditions, in the midst of the worldwide conflagration and chaos of the imperialist mass slaughter, caught in the coils of the most reactionary military power in Europe, and accompanied by the most complete failure on the part of the international working class), it would be a crazy idea to think that every last thing done or left undone in an experiment with the dictatorship of the proletariat under such abnormal conditions represented the very pinnacle of perfection" (ibid p 368-9).

Luxemburg's criticisms of the Bolsheviks were focussed on three main areas:

1. the land question

2. the national question

3. democracy and dictatorship.


1. The Bolsheviks had won peasant support for the October revolution by inviting them to seize the land from the big landowners. Luxemburg recognised that this was "an excellent tactical move" But she went on: "Unfortunately it had two sides to it; and the reverse side consisted in the fact that the direct seizure of the land by the peasants has in general nothing at all in common with socialist economy...Not only is it not a socialist measure, it even cuts off the way to such measures; it piles up insurmountable obstacles to the socialist transformation of agrarian relations" (ibid, pp375-376). Luxemburg points out that a socialist economic policy can only start from the collectivisation of large landed property. Fully cognisant of the difficulties facing the Bolsheviks, she does not criticise them for failing to implement this straight away. But she does say that by actively encouraging the peasants to divide the land up into innumerable small plots, the Bolsheviks were piling up problems for later on, creating a new stratum of small property owners who would be naturally hostile to any attempt to socialise the economy. This was certainly confirmed by experience: though prepared to support the Bolsheviks against the old Czarist regime, the "independent" peasants later became an increasingly conservative weight on the proletarian power. Luxemburg was also very accurate in her warning that the division of the land would favour the richer peasants at the expense of the poorer. But it has also to be said that in itself the collectivisation of the land would be no guarantee of the march towards socialism, any more than the collectivisation of industry; only the success of the revolution on a world scale could have secured that - just as it could have overcome the difficulties posed by the parcellisation of the land in Russia.

2. Luxemburg's most trenchant criticisms concern the question of "national self-determination". While recognising that the Bolsheviks' defence of the slogan of "the right of peoples to self-determination" was based on a legitimate concern to oppose all forms of national oppression and to win to the revolutionary cause the masses of those parts of the Czarist empire which had been under the yoke of Great Russian chauvinism, Luxemburg showed what this "right" meant in practise: the "new" national units which had opted for separation from the Russian Soviet republic systematically allied themselves with imperialism against the proletarian power: "While Lenin and his comrades clearly expected that, as champions of national freedom, even to the extent of ‘separation', they would turn Finland, the Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, the Baltic countries, the Caucasus etc into so many faithful allies of the Russian revolution, we have witnessed the opposite spectacle. One after another, these ‘nations' used the newly granted freedom to ally themselves with German imperialism against the Russian revolution as its mortal enemy, and, under German protection, to carry the banner of counter-revolution into Russia itself" (p 380). And she goes on to explain why it could not be otherwise, since in a capitalist class society, there is no such thing as the "nation" separate from the interests of the bourgeoisie, which would far rather subject itself to the domination of imperialism than make common cause with the revolutionary working class: "To be sure, in all these cases, it was really not the ‘people' who engaged in these reactionary policies, but only the bourgeois and petty bourgeois classes, who - in sharpest opposition to their own proletarian masses - perverted the ‘national right of self-determination' into an instrument of their counter-revolutionary class policies. But - and here we come to the very heart of the question - it is in this that the utopian, petty bourgeois character of this nationalistic slogan resides: that in the midst of the crude realities of class society and when class antagonisms are sharpened to the uttermost, it is simply converted into a means of bourgeois class rule. The Bolsheviks were to be taught to their own great hurt, and that of the revolution, that under the rule of capitalism there is no self-determination of peoples, that in a class society each class of the nation strives to ‘determine itself' in a different fashion, and that, for the bourgeois classes, the standpoint of national freedom is fully subordinated to that of class rule. The Finnish bourgeoisie like the Ukrainian bourgeoisie, were unanimous in preferring the violent rule of Germany to national freedom, if the latter should be bound up with Bolshevism" (ibid).

Furthermore, the Bolsheviks' confusion on this point (although it must be remembered that there was a minority in the Bolshevik party - in particular Piatakov - who fully agreed with Luxemburg's point of view on this question) was having a negative effect internationally since ‘national self-determination' was also the rallying cry of Woodrow Wilson and of all the big imperialist sharks who were seeking to use it to dislodge their imperialist rivals from the regions that they themselves coveted. And the whole history of the twentieth century has confirmed how easily the "rights of nations" has become no more than a cloak for the imperialist desires of the great powers and of their lesser emulators.

Luxemburg did not dismiss the problem of national sensitivities; she insisted that there could be no question of a proletarian regime ‘integrating' outlying countries through military force alone. But it was equally true that any concession made to the nationalist illusions of the masses in those regions could only tie them more closely to their exploiters. The proletariat, once it has assumed power in any region, can only win those masses to its cause through "the most compact union of revolutionary forces", through a "genuine international class policy" aimed at splitting the workers from their own bourgeoisie.

3. On "democracy and dictatorship" there are profoundly contradictory elements in Luxemburg's position. On the one hand there is no doubt that she falls into a real confusion between democracy in general and workers' democracy in particular - the democratic forms used in the framework and in the interest of the proletarian dictatorship. This is shown by her resolute defence of the Constituent Assembly, which the Soviet power dissolved in 1918, in perfect consistency with the fact that the very appearance of the latter had made the old bourgeois democratic forms entirely obsolete. And yet somehow Luxemburg sees this act as a threat to the life of the revolution. In a similar vein she is reluctant to accept that, in order to exclude the ruling class from political life, "suffrage" in a Soviet regime should be based primarily on the workplace collective rather than on the individual citizen's domicile (albeit her concern was also to ensure that the unemployed would not be excluded by this criterion, which was certainly not its intention). These inter-classist, democratic prejudices are in striking contrast to her argument that "national self-determination" can never express anything else than the "self-determination" of the bourgeoisie. The argument is identical as regards parliamentary institutions, which do not, whatever the appearance, express the interests of the "people" but of the capitalist ruling class. Luxemburg's views in this text are also totally at odds with the programme of the Spartacus League formulated soon after, since this document demands the dissolution of all municipal and national parliamentary type bodies and their replacement by councils of workers' and soldiers' delegates: we can only presume that Luxemburg's position on the Constituent Assembly - which also became the rallying cry of the counter-revolution in Germany - had evolved very rapidly in the heat of the revolutionary process.

But this does not mean that there is no validity to any of Luxemburg's criticisms of the Bolsheviks' approach to the question of workers' democracy. She was fully aware that in the extremely difficult situation facing the beleaguered Soviet power, there was a real danger that the political life of the working class would be subordinated to the necessity to bar the road to the counter-revolution. Given this situation, Luxemburg was right to be sensitive to any signs that the norms of workers' democracy were being violated. Her defence of the necessity for the widest possible debate within the proletarian camp, and against the forcible suppression of any proletarian political tendencies, was justified in light of the fact that the Bolsheviks, having assumed state power, were drifting towards a party monopoly that was to damage themselves as much as the life of the proletariat in general, particularly with the introduction of the Red Terror. Luxemburg did not at all oppose the notion of the proletarian dictatorship. But as she insisted "this dictatorship consists in the manner of applying democracy, not in its elimination, in energetic, resolute attacks upon the well-entrenched rights and economic relationships of bourgeois society, without which a socialist transformation cannot be accomplished. But this dictatorship must be the work of the class and not of a little leading minority in the name of the class - that is, must proceed step by step out of the active participation of the masses; it must be under their direct influence, subjected to the control of complete public activity; it must arise out of the growing political training of the mass of the people ( ibid, p 394).

Luxemburg was particularly prescient in warning of the danger of the political life of the Soviets being emptied out more and more as power became concentrated in the hands of the party: over the next three years, under the pressures of the civil war, this was to become one of the central dramas of the revolution. But whether Luxemburg was right or wrong in her specific criticisms, what inspires us above all is her approach to the problem, an approach that should have served as a guide to all subsequent analyses of the revolution and its demise: intransigent defence of its proletarian character, and thus criticism of its weaknesses and its eventual failure as a problem of the proletariat and for the proletariat. Unfortunately, all too often the name of Luxemburg has been used to pour scorn on the very memory of October - not only by those councilist currents who have claimed descent from the German left but who have lost sight of the real traditions of the working class; but also, and perhaps more importantly, by those bourgeois forces who in the name of "democratic socialism" use Luxemburg as a hammer against Lenin and Bolshevism. This has been the speciality of those who descend politically from the very forces who murdered Luxemburg in 1919 to save the skin of the bourgeoisie - the social democrats, particularly their left wing factions. For our part, we have every intention, in analysing the mistakes of the Bolsheviks and the degeneration of the Russian revolution, of remaining faithful to the real content of her method. CDW.

The second part of this article can be found here.

Feminist Theory Website

Rosa Luxemburg

Biographical Information

"Rosa Luxemburg: A Socialist With a Human Face"

by Beverly G. Merrick

    [Copyright 1998 Beverly G. Merrick.]

To recognize Rosa Luxemburg is a conscientious act, for she triumphed over many odds to found a practical theory that combined the Marxist dialectic with historical pragmatism. Although she became a martyr for her contributions to radical thought, more than 40 years before the sixties movement of the New Left, Luxemburg, is -- as Robert Bland suggests -- the ideological founder of that movement. Bland further writes:

For although student leaders and publicists do not yet document their tactics and rhetoric with citations from her pamphlets, there are curious parallels to her insights into situations that, with the availability now of her works, may become apparent and relevant to the contestateurs the future. . . . Despite the current notion that revolution begins at the bottom of the masses, or that theory and organization come out of action, the current dispersed adherents of praxis still need a theorist of her audacity -- one who knew that no one "makes" a revolution..

Luxemburg, according to Stephen Bronner, is the founder of an "emancipatory heritage" that allows theorists to view socialism in a favorable light. Bronner writes that the socialism, of the linage of Marx-Lenin-Stalin "conjures up a socialism of grey, a socialism of dictatorship and concrete, of repression, truly "strains against the shackles of both capitalistic and 'social' oppression.". Rosa Luxemburg advocated socialism with a human face. The purpose of this research is to explore the contributions of Rosa Luxemburg to socialist thought, by presenting her personal life and theory of historical progressivism in the context of strategies. Her personal tactics were to get to the center of the action, to be a fighter, and to never be afraid to tackle those who had gained stature in a field, whether it be on the political scene or in philosophical discussion. She discovered truth by applying historical examples to the revolutionary struggle. This type of political approach has proved her to be a visionary. Most of all, she is an example of how far belief in one's self and one's own vision can be acted out for the betterment of humanity. As a hero, not heroine, Luxemburg resisted the separatism between men and women conveyed by such nuances in the language. Luxemburg considered herself a person, not a gender type. How Luxemburg arrived at the state of supreme self-confidence is a study in heroism. She was a subject of the Russian state, a member of a subject people, a member of the outcast Jewish race, and a cripple. Yet, as Mary-Alice Waters writes, Rose Luxemburg

dedicated her immense energies, capabilities, and intellectual powers to the goal of world social revolution. She understood that the stakes were high, that the fate of humanity was at stake and, as a woman of action, she gave herself completely to the great historic battle..

Her life spanned the five decades that opened the first dress rehearsal for the socialist revolution and closed as a new era was launched -- 1871 to 1919. Luxemburg was born on March 1, 1871, in Zanosc, a small town in southeastern Russian Poland in the year of the Paris commune.. She was the youngest of five children. Her parents were Jews who de-emphasized their Jewishness.. Although little is known about her mother, it is known that she was well-read. Luxemburg wrote to Sophie Leibknect, in Letters From Prison, that her mother considered Schiller and the Bible supreme sources of wisdom, being "firmly convinced that King Solomon understood the language of birds.". Rosa said that in the pride of her 14 years and in her training in natural science, she used to smile at her "mother's simplicity.". Her father, educated in Germany, owned a timber business. He has generally been described as cosmopolitan in thought and actions. The Polish and German languages were spoken in the home. Luxemburg also learned Russian. Rosa said she learned from her father liberal ideas, an active interest in world affairs, an ongoing pleasure in Western literature. He had emancipated himself from the strictness of the ghetto and from the Jewish orthodoxy at an early age.. The family moved to Warsaw, where at the age of 5 Rosa developed a serious hip ailment. Bedridden for a year, she taught herself to read. Luxemburg never fully recovered from the disease. She walked with a slight limp the rest of her life.. Biographer and friend Paul Frolich writes:

Physically she was not cut out for the role of heroine. She was slight of build and her body was badly proportioned; her legs were too short for her torso, and owing to her early hip trouble her walk was ungainly. Her features were sharp and pronouncedly Jewish. It was a face indicating energy and determination, and it repelled one and fascinated the other..

Her education was remarkable in several respects. At the age of 13, she entered the second girls school, graduating in 1887 with an excellent academic record from an institution reserved "first and foremost" for the children and Russian administrators.. Mary-Alice Waters said school authorities denied Luxemburg a gold medal she had earned for academic achievement because of her "rebellious attitude." Apparently, Luxemburg had already become active in the underground revolutionary movement.. Two years later, with arrest eminent, Luxemburg was smuggled out of Poland into Germany. A Catholic priest helped her after she told him she had to leave Poland because she wanted to be baptized to marry her lover.. Luxemburg went to Zurich. She attended the University of Zurich, one of the few institutions of the time that admitted men and women on an equal basis. Her studies covered a wide range of the humanities, social science and history. Earning a doctorate in political science, she was considered an oddity by prospective landlords, who had never before seen a woman with a doctor's degree.. Frolich writes that along with her studies, Luxemburg took part in the Zurich working-class movement. She became active in the intellectual life of political emigrants from Poland and Russia.. Frolich said that free thought prevailed amongst them in an angst of strict and almost ascetic morality.. The subjects of discussion had one theme -- revolution, whether it be philosophy, Darwinism, the emancipation of women, Marx, Tolstoy, Russian agrarian communism, capitalistic development, Nihilist terrorism, Bakunin, Blanqy, methods of revolutionary struggle, demoralization of the Western bourgeoisie, Bismark's fall, German social democracy, the emancipation of Poland, Emile Zola.. Luxemburg positioned herself in the thick of political battles, invariably advocating Marxism. She became one of the central leaders of Polish social democracy, and remained so until her murder. She also entered into an intimate personal, intellectual and political relationship with Leo Jogiches, which lasted for 15 years.. Her friend Clara Zetkin once said of Jogiches:

He was one of those rare men who can tolerate a great personality in the woman by his side, working with him in loyal and happy comradeship, without feeling her growth and development as a limitation on his own personality..

Luxemburg refused to assume the stereotypical roles women usually fill in a political organization. Waters said she had virtually no interest in the details of party functioning, financing, underground work, nor the complications of getting underground literature published. Jogiches dealt with such matters. Luxemburg chose rather to be always the orator and writer. In her public life, she was continually in the spotlight.. One of her earliest battles, as a founding member of the Polish Socialist Party (PPS), was to be seated as a delegate at the Third Congress International of 1893. She met stiff opposition when she demanded the right to delegate status. Frolich writes that as a trenchant fighter, Luxermburg took the floor at the convention showing no trace of self-consciousness "at being seated in the presence of the illustrious heads of the international socialist movement.". He added, "On the contrary, the unknown woman defended her [particular] cause by launching a vigorous attack on its opponents.". By the next congress in 1986, her demand to be seated went unchallenged.. A year laster, Luxemburg completed her studies. She decided to make her living as a journalist while working for Germany's large and influential socialist party. She reportedly married Gustav Lubeck to achieve citizenship status, so that German authorities could not prevent her political activity. Five years later, when she gained German citizenship, she parted company with Lubeck outside the registry office.. At the Paris Congress of the International, a new attempt was made to exclude her from the proceedings of socialist discussion. This time the attempt was "pitiful" in view of her wide support.. Her opponents apparently did not argue against her ideas but her character. Apparently, the "abuse" had no visible effect on Luxemburg:

In political argument she could be extraordinarily trenchant, and her irony was biting, but she remained objective always." The mud thrown at her was so ineffective that she never bothered to answer it or defend herself in her writings..

Luxemburg did not think highly of the methods and the doctrines of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD). While they learned to

respect her exceptionable abilities, they generally considered her, to put it most bluntly, a cantankerous foreign youngster who, on top of everything else, was a woman. One of their first proposals to her was that she turn her attentions toward the SPD's organization for women, where they thought she properly belonged, and where they hoped she would be sidetracked and eliminated from the mainstream of the part's political life..

Waters further writes that Luxemburg promptly turned them down. She looked for another area in which to be active: "While she understood the importance of organizing women to take part in the revolutionary struggle, . . . she steadfastly refused to be forced into any traditional women's role within the party.". Luxemburg encouraged the women around her to follow her example. According to researcher Dick Howard, Luxemburg continually tried "to persuade her women friends to take an independent role in politics, and to free themselves from the domination of their husbands.". In a letter from prison, she urged Sophie Liebknecht to keep up her reading: "[Y]ou must go on with your mental training, and it will be quite easy for you since your mind is still fresh and pliable.". In a speech given on May 12, 1912, at the Second Social Democratic Women's Rally, Luxemburg said that women's suffrage is a worthy goal, but added:

[T]he mass movement to bring it about is not a job for women and men of the proletariat. Germany's present lack of rights is only one link in the chain of reaction that shackles people's lives. . . . Monarchy and women's lack of rights have become the most important tools of the ruling capitalist class..

Luxemburg's friend Clara Zutkin became the leader of the SPD's women's movement.. Even though Luxemburg rarely wrote about the struggle for women's liberation, she considered herself, according to Waters,

a revolutionary leader of men and women, and she dismissed the insults directed against her because she was woman as simple part of the overhead of political battle. She understood that women can achieve their full liberation only with the triumph of the social revolution nd elimination of their economic bondage to the family institution, and she devoted all her energies to bring about that revolution..

Luxemburg viewed women as part of the exploited of the population, which included the working class, national minorities and peasants.. She once wrote with biting irony about the role women are required to play, according to the traditional viewpoints. In What Is Economics?, she said:

In the winter there is spinning to be done -- women's work, while the men make whatever the household needs with axe, saw and hammer. For all I care you can call it "agriculture" or Handicraft." In any case, we have to do a little of everything since we need all kinds of things around the house and for the fields. How do we "organize" the work? Another silly question! The men, naturally, do those chores which call for the strength of men; the women take care of the house, the cows and the chicken coop' the children help wherever they can. You don't mean that I should send a woman to cut the wood and that I should milk the cows myself? (The good man does not know -- let us add on our part -- that in many primitive tribes, Brazilian Indians, for instance, it is precisely the women who collect the wood, dig for roots and gather fruits in the forest, while with the cattle-raising tribes of Africa and Asia it is the men who not only take care of the cattle, but also milk them. Even today, in Dalmatia, one can still see the woman carrying heavy loads on her back, while the robust man rides alongside on a donkey, puffing a pipe.).

She said the division of labor in the respective cultures seem just as natural to them as it seems to the peasant that the husband should cut the wood and the wife should milk the cows.. Frolich said her political acumen was instinctive rather than acquired. She was able to speak affectively to mass of people. Her meetings were always triumphs.. Even so, Luxemburg wrote several years after the fact about what she called "the strange reception" her oratorical prowess had been given in the German socio-democratic camp. She complained to a correspondent of pettiness. Frolich said the founders of the movement were angered that Luxemburg,

. . . a woman, had dared to interfere in politics, an almost exclusively male affair. Not only that, but she had not contented herself with modestly asking the opinions of "practical politicians," who were years her senior, but had put forth her own ideas, and what was worse, supported them with such brilliant arguments that the graybeards were forced to capitulate, and they bore her a grudge for it..

Luxemburg was able to cut to the heart of an argument because she believed facts have their own logic, and individuals fail to know how to use that logic effectively. She would lay bare the "logic of facts" rather than develop a moral system of political logic.. If was not liked, she was at least gained respect in some quarters. Max Beer, who traced the history of the movement in "Fifty Years of International Socialism," said about Luxemburg, who he called the Jewess:

Her wide learning, intellectual and artistic culture, her eloquence and sparkling wit, made her one of the great figures of the Socialist International. She won the admiration of men [persons] of action, like James and Lenin, and of artists such as Hugo Wolf.. Her method of dialect was strongly influenced by Marx. She regarded history as a process. In the process class-forces struggled for their own interests as they evolved out of a given economic situation.. For Luxemburg,

Marxism was not a theoretical system solving all questions at once and for all, but a method of examining the process of economic change at each new stage of its development, with all its effects on the interests, ideas, aims and political activities of each group in society.. Her ability to use the system of logic was, according to Frolich, "a weapon enabling her to maintain intellectual mastery of the social process as a whole.". Other scholars have studied her method of inquiry as a continuing process. Robert Looker writes that Luxemburg was convinced that "nothing is more contrary to the historical-dialectical method of Marxist thought than absolute, general application.". The Marxist dialectic was for Luxemburg, a model to communicate in-depth historical insight gained from careful analysis of situations in her own times. Above all, Luxemburg was a woman of thought and will. Frolich said her heart was disciplined by her head: "all her political decisions first passed the test of reason and justified themselves in theory before they developed into action.". She had the strength to withstand 20 long years of battling within the German Socialist Party, fighting often single handedly against the party's reformist drift. Waters said Luxemburg held on to her "profoundly revolutionary perspective in the fact of heavy pressure to retreat and find a comfortable niche in the party apparatus.". Because she founded her theories of fact on historical evidence, her process often proved her to be on target when applied to similar situations. Frolich writes:

She displayed almost a visionary ability to grasp as a whole the great historical process, in which technique, the organization of product and distribution, historical tradition, scientific achievement, jurisdicial conceptions and laws, and scores of other factors interacting to facilitate or retard the cyclopean battle of the classes, but of which, in the long run, economic factors are the determining force shaping the organization of society.. Luxemburg never was prepared to view only the surface phenomena of a problem. She investigated below the surface, seeking the motives behind a particular act. Her contemporaries often thought her speculations were far afield of the problem, but history unfolding bore out her predictions.. Even as she looked at a current development, she looked into the future at the repercussions caused by chosen courses of action. Frolich said Luxemburg invariably had the next stage of the movement in mind. She understood that revolution had a secondary character: for the bourgeoisie, considerations meant more civil liberties,. the republic and parliamentary democracy; for the working class, the change had a proletarian character.. During a time of international political upheaval, during World War I,Luxemburg wrote

The task of Social Democracy and its leaders it not to let themselves be dragged along in the wake of events, but deliberately to forge ahead of them, to foresee the trend of events, to shorten development by conscious action, and to accelerate its progress..

It is difficult to know where to place Luxemburg into the context of intellectual thought because she was always controversial, always playing the devil's advocate in arguments by finding the weaker points. She was called at times an opponent of the Russian Revolution. At other times, she was praised. For instance, at the Petrograd Soviet meeting of January 18, 1919, she was called "one of the first Marxists to evaluate the Russian Revolution correctly as a whole.". After all, she was often a battling dissenter of the agenda of the German Social Democrats. Others say her classical analysis of imperialism, The Accumulation of Capital, and other works have gained popular recognition in the United States. It is interesting to note as well that she founded the Polish and Lithuanian Social Democratic Part (SDPIL), the Gruppe Internationale, the Spartakusbund, and the German Community Party. She first gained renown by taking on Bernstein and Kautsky. Later she challenged Lenin and the Bolshevik machine. Apparently, she had great self-confidence in her own methods and application of the theories aggravated political enmities.. Luxeumburg also questioned political dogma. She accepted no generally applicable formula to solve all national problems. She challenged accepted tradition, even if it were political postulates of Marx and Engels, even while all other Marxist of the time were buying the whole of dogma hook, line and sinker.. During the 1890s. she opposed Russian expansionism because she saw not further need to foreign powers "to act as mid-wives for the Russian revolution.". Luxemburg agreed with Lenin that the founding of the new society must be brought about by revolutionaries. She agreed that the advanced guard of the class struggle must be centrally organized with a disciplined majority carrying out policies. However, the two parted company in visualizing how the government, once in place, would operate.. Luxemburg regarded the continued existence of an all-powerful Central Committee as a danger to the development of the struggle itself.. She maintained that social tactics could become hidebound and mechanical unless controlled by the total membership of the party. She wanted the masses to be encouraged to widely criticize the process.. Her predictions were borne out when the Stalinist regime made bolshevist policy "a virtue of necessity." This resulted in a bureaucracy that divided the leaders from the masses.. Luxemburg argued convincingly that the ruling party would become an elitist party cadre even though such questions of nationality lay with the masses. Theorist Horace P. Davis writes:

Since Lenin advocated self-determination only up to a point, those who wished for self-determination beyond that point -- those who were not interested in social revolution [except to combat it] -- would of course charge Lenin with hypocrisy; and this was done, both at the time [of the Russian Revolution] and later. Luxemburg's position was not any more palatable to the conservatives, but she did escape the charge of hypocrisy..

Davis says the difference between Lenin and Luxemburg were in a portion due to a difference in the "set of facts" with which they were operating. However, her statement of the case against the theory of self-determination is as relevant today as when it was written in 1908.. Norman Geras also recognizes Luxemburg's call for the scope of democratic gains and liberties within the dictatorship of the proletariat. Geras writes:

Luxemburg's view on the issue is clear. The proletarian dictatorship is a more direct and more extensive form of democracy than anything that has existed hitherto and must involve comprehensive democratic procedures and freedoms: elections, freedom of the press, freedom of opinion -- for the one who thinks differently, not only for the members of the party -- freedom of assembly, etc., in the absence of which a mere semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains as the active element. . . . [A]n elite of the working class is invited from time to time to meetings where they are to applaud the speeches of the leaders, and to approve proposed resolutions unanimously..

Geras maintains that Luxemburg called described a socio-political system based on a plurality of tendencies and of parties within the dictatorship of the proletariat.. He also suggests that Luxemburg protested against what she regarded as "a failure of the leadership in the Bolshevik camp to weigh fully the dangers involved in restricting democratic rights and liberties.. Further, that she was not protesting from a liberal stance or from an anarchy against the dictatorship of the proletariat. Nor did she appeal to universal freedom, nor to interclass democracy against coercion of any kind, nor the plea of a pacifist " to the effect that the masses must join the battle with an enemy armed to the teeth, shielded only by the strength of their ideals.". The critic says Luxemburg was warning the party intellectuals against the temptation to rigidify their principles to the point of finding they are necessities. She said the principles could become a kind of model of necessity.. Lenin heard her cautionary words, but did not agree. However, after her death, in 1922, he upbraided the German party for being slow to publish her work.. A decade later, Stalin, as the new leader of the Soviet Union, attempted to discredit her writings. Waters writes that Stalin tried to rewrite history when he decreed that Luxemburg was "personally responsible for that greatest of all sins, the theory of permanent revolution.". Trotsky got into the debate, coming to her defense. In articles titled "Hands Off Rosa Luxemburg" and published in the August 6 and 13, 1932, issues of The Militant, Trotsky writes:

If one were to take the disagreements between Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg in their entirety, then the historical correctness is unconditionally [biases] on Lenin's side. But this does not exclude the fact that in certain questions, and during definite periods Rosa Luxemburg was correct against Lenin [sic]..

Trotsky further maintains that Stalin did not hesitate to vilify her and to lie about her motives and theories.. Efforts to eradicate Luxemburg's name from the social movement were ultimately unsuccessful because she was never declared "an unperson" . Waters said Luxemburg was not eliminated from history books altogether; therefore, her image has been partially restored with the passage of time.. It should be pointed out that Luxemburg never aligned herself unreservedly with the Bolsheviks or the Mensheviks. More so, she stood for unity within the Russian Social Democratic Party (RSDRP).. Even so, she was not afraid to criticize those in powerful leadership positions. Reform or Revolution was Luxemburg's first major political work. The book is comprised of a series of articles written while she was still in her twenties. The articles were published in Neue Zeit, from 1897 to 1898.. In the work, she attacks the theory of Edward Bernstein, who is in the leadership of the German Socialist Party, for calling on socialists to join forces with the liberal bourgeoisie on the basis of a capitalistic program.. In 1905, in a pamphlet titled Socialism and the Church, Luxemburg indicted the church, under the pen name of Josef Chmua, as a reactionary institution. The essay maintains that the church was one of "the most wealthy and vicious exploiters of the poor.". On March 4, 1906, Luxemburg was arrested in Poland and charged with serious crimes against the state. She was released in July of that year. After her release, she went to Finland, where she wrote The Mass Strike: the Political Party and the Trade Union. She had predicted the mass strike, which occurred in Russia in 1905, when the working classes led a revolution and general strike and used other economic leverages.. The reason for her arrest is probably because of her innumerable speech in Germany about the revolt in Russia. Frolich writes:

[E]verywhere she was regarded as the living representative of the revolution, and her meetings turned into a tour of triumph. Under irresistible pressure from the enthusiastic masses, who would brook no refusal, she was allowed to speak even on trade-union platforms, which up to then had been closed to her..

Around that time, Luxemburg authored a pamphlet about the mass strikes outlines the 1905-1906 revolution in Russia, which attacks "the institutionalized conservatism of the social democratic trade-union bureaucracy in Germany.". It is pertinent to show several arguments she used concerning the mass strike in that they represent tactics Luxemburg proposed in her Marxist theory of historical progressivism. Luxemburg writes:

As the Russian Revolution shows it to us, the mass strike is such a changeable phenomenon that it reflects in itself all phases of the political and economic struggle, all states and moments of revolution. Its applicability, its effectiveness, and the moments of its origin change continually. It suddenly opens new, broad perspectives of revolution just where it seems to have come to a narrow pass; and it disappoints where one though he [she] could reckon on it with full certitude..

Further, she maintained:

Political and economic strikes, mass strikes and partial strikes, demonstrative strikes and fighting strikes, general strikes of individual cities, peaceful wage struggles and street massacres, barricade fighting -- all these run through one another, next to each other, cross one another, flow in and over one another; it is an eternal moving changing sea of appearances..

Luxemburg said the law of movement of these phenomena is clear. "

It does not lie in the mass strike itself," she explained, "not in its technical peculiarities, but in the political and social relation of the forces of the revolution. The mass strike is merely a form of revolutionary struggle.". Luxemburg suggests that the mass strike is not artificially made, not decided out of the blue, not propagated: rather the strike is an historical phenomenon, which at "a certain moment follows with historical necessity from the social relations.". She said it is impossible to propagate a strike in the same way it is impossible to propagate a revolution' The terms "mass strike" and "revolution" are only "concepts which signify an external form of the class struggle, and which have a sense and a content only in connection with determined political associations.". It stands to reason, therefore, that revolutionaries are not inciters of civil strife, only the conduits of it. In simple terms, no one can cause something to happen unless the conditions are ripe for something to happen. During World War I, Luxemburg wrote under another pseudonym, that of Junius, an earlier champion of liberty against absolute abuses. Frolich said the Junius pamphlet, published in April 1916, openly and powerfully reveals Luxemburg's deep indignation about the conflict. With "bitter and ice-cold sarcasm,". she describes

a world in which the mass slaughter of human beings has degenerated into a monotonous daily task, in which business flourished on mass ruin, and in which the mad hunt for war profits was praised as an expression of the same patriotism which led others to lay down their lives on the battlefield..

Despite daily reports of German victories, Luxemburg prophesied the collapse of Austria, Turkey and Tsarist Russia, and the rivalry between Japan on one side and Great Britain, the United States and China on the other.. The Junius pamphlet could just as well be a pamphlet for our time. During Luxemburg's second and longest imprisonment, from July 1916 to November 1918, she was prevented from participating in any political activity, including political writing. Therefore, her correspondence to friends became her sole emotional and intellectual outlet.. Her letters from prison, according to Waters, reveal a side of her personality finding little overt expression in her political writings. Luxemburg's correspondence demonstrates that she had a deep love for life in all forms.. Max Beer agrees that Luxemburg's imprisonment revealed her humanist tendencies. True, she was a theoretician who was willing and able to challenge the theories of Lenin.. She was also a person who gave a passionate part of her mind to contemplating "the ways of birds and beats and poets.". During the two years in prison, Luxemburg drew her strength, not from dwelling on the struggle itself, but finding in herself a place in the universal order of things: "the clouds she could see above the prison wall, the weeds which grew in the crannies of the prison paving stones, the birds she could watch and hear from behind the bars, and the poems men [persons] had written to express their joy in these things.". She wrote to Sophie Liebknecht in May of 1917:

Sometimes . . . it seems to me that I am not really a human being at all, but like a bird or beast in human form. I feel so much more at home even in a scrap of garden like the one here, and still more in the meadows when the grass is humming with bees than -- at one of our party congresses..

She also fought through bouts of depression, saying she suffered in silence. Later in May she again wrote to Liebknecht

If at this moment the very job of my soul had stood embodied before me, I should have been unable to utter a word of greeting, and could only have gazed at the vision in dumb despair. In fact I rarely have much inclination to talk. Weeks pass without my hearing the sound of my own voice..

One of the first pieces she wrote after her release on November 8, 1918, was "Against Capital Punishment," published in Rote Fahne. In the article she condemns the inhumanity of what she calls capitalistic "justice" and outlines the humanitarian goals of the social revolution and the treatment of prisoners.. The last two months of her life were, according to Waters, days and nights of almost uninterrupted mental and physical exertion.". From November 9 to mid-January, there Luxemburg was involved in demonstration after demonstration, with hundreds of thousands of workers pouring into the street. They protested every governmental move made against their organizations and supporters. Mass meetings were held daily.. Luxemburg's final speech was given at the founding convention of the German Communist Party. On January 15, 1919, Rosa, Wilhelm Pieck and Karl Liebknecht [Sophie's husband] were arrested in Berlin by a cadre of solders. The three were murdered shortly thereafter. Reportedly, Luxemburg's skull was first smashed by two blows from the butt of a carbine. Then she was shot in the head. He corpse apparently was flung into a canal, where it was recovered the following May.. Leo Jogiches, her confidante, spent the next few days suggesting she must have been murdered, until he was arrested. On March 10, he was dragged out of prison and murdered.. Waters suggests that the murders of Luxemburg and Liebknecht marked the end of the first phase of the Russian Revolution. She said it was a tremendous blow to the revolution.. Ironically, although Luxemburg was not a liberal pacifist, she criticize the use of violence against those who opposed Bolshevism, even though she was in substantial agreement with their analysis of the need for a revolution. Luxemburg, in fact, had written a work called Peace Utopia in 1911, which decried the use of force or violence -- the destruction of life. Her position as theorist was basically a moral argument, with a human reluctance to see life destroyed, even if the violence against the oppressed is in no way comparable to the violence of the oppressor.. When Rosa Luxemburg spoke of changing the order of society, she spoke not of violence, but of class struggle. She spoke not of war, but revolution within, through strikes and other forms of civil disobedience. Juxtaposed to her tactics are those of Lenin, who firmly insisted that civil war defined the nature of the revolution, an all or nothing approach to resolve differences. It is ironic, that the peace she wanted could be obtained only by the seizure of power, and no one willingly relinquishes power.. She could not stand to see any living entity suffer. This is the context in which she justified force for the oppressed to free themselves. While in prison, Luxemburg at written to Sophie Leibknecht:

While the lorry was being unloaded, the beasts, which were utterly exhausted, stood perfectly still. The one that was bleeding had an expression on its black face and its soft black eyes like that of a weeping child -- one that has been severely thrashed and doers not know why. nor how to escape from the torment of ill-treatment. I stood in front of the team; the beast looked at me; the tears dwelled up in my eyes. The suffering of the dearly beloved brother could hardly have moved me more profoundly than I was moved by my impotence in the face of this mute agony..

She said she saw the strange and terrible prison guards rain blows upon blow on the buffalo. Blood was running from its gaping wounds. She said, "Poor wretch, I am as powerless, as dumb, as yourself, I am longing.". A few days later, on May 12, she came to some kind of terms with the incident, writing, "I cannot shed tears over all the thrashed buffaloes in the world. . . . "Logic does not help in the matter, and it makes me ill to see suffering.". Juxtaposed against the violence of the scene and her similar brutal murder, is Luxemburg's words about hopes for a revival of life. The letter was written to Sophie Liechknecht toward the end of that May: I had such an experience yesterday. I must tell you what happened. In that bathroom, before dinner, I found a great peacock butterfly on the window. It must have been shut up for two of three days, for it had almost worn itself out fluttering against the hard windowpane, so that there was now nothing more than a slight movement of the wings to show it was still alive. Directly I noticed it, I dressed myself, trembling with impatience, climbed to the window and took it cautiously in my hand. It had now ceased to move, and I thought it must be dead. But I took it to my own room and put it on the outside window sill, to see if it would revive. There was again a gentle fluttering for a little, but after that the insect did not move. I laid a few flowers in front of its antennae, so that it might have something to eat. At that moment the black-cap sang in front of the window so lustily that the echoes rang. Involuntarily, I spoke out loud to the butterfly, saying, "Just listen how merrily the bird is singing; you must take heart, too, and come to life again!" I could not help laughing at myself for speaking life this to a half-dead butterfly, and I thought: "You are wasting your breath!" But I wasn't, for in about half an hour the little creature really revived; after moving about for a while, it was able to flutter slowly away. I was so delighted at this rescue..

The paradox of the passage: to save a butterfly. She who would save life was destroyed by those she would have saved. When Luxemburg's letters, with such passages, were published after her death, they brought about a revulsion of public feeling. Frolich writes:

Many men and women, not socialist, have since openly confessed their deep regret that the news of her murder filled them with satisfaction, and they have bitterly reproached themselves for having had any share, even indirectly, in the creation of the savage atmosphere which made the murders possible.. Luxemburg had been targeted for death because of the mass hysteria caused by the revolutionary ideas proposed in a mass strike. Others in the socialist organization of Spartakusband were also targeted because big business and government feared the loss of their stranglehold on the worker. Her mass rallies became the center of political discussion for the masses. She became a martyr for her cause because her tactics of historical progressivism tempered by humanism were apparently effective strategies for the political atmosphere of the post-war period. Luxemburg was far from being an armchair revolutionary. She as always in the thick of the action. She paid the price of carrying out her beliefs. Someone once wrote that Luxemburg had remarked in one of her letters from prison: "You know that I really do hope to die at my post, in a street-fight or in prison. But my innermost personality belongs more to my tom-tits than to my comrades.".

Rosa Luxemburg

Polish-born Marxist theorist and revolutionary whose activities during the 1918 German Revolution led to her murder by the state during the counter-revolution.

"Like a candle burning at both ends": Rosa Luxemburg and the critique of political economy - Riccardo Bellofiore

Paper showing how Luxemburg's economic theory and political perspective are much richer than the economic determinism and spontaneism they are usually associated with.


Order Prevails in Berlin - Rosa Luxemburg

Troops loyal to the Kaiser battle workers on the streets of Hamburg

Written just after the defeat of German Revolution and hours before she and other leaders of the struggle would be arrested and killed by the Friekorps. It details the ebb and flow of recent class struggles and is the last known work of Rosa Luxemburg.

"Order prevails in Warsaw!" declared Minister Sebastiani to the Paris Chamber of Deputies in 1831, when after having stormed the suburb of Praga, Paskevich’s marauding troops invaded the Polish capital to begin their butchery of the rebels.

A Call to the Workers of the World - Rosa Luxemburg

Berlin, 1922

Rosa Luxemburg's call to the international working class to support the 1918 German Revolution by taking up arms against their own ruling classes. Originally published in Die Rote Fahne (The Red Flag), November 25, 1918

PROLETARIANS! Men and Women of Labor! Comrades!

The Beginning - Rosa Luxemburg

Rosa Luxemburg

Rosa Luxemburg's essay at the outbreak of the 1918 German Revolution.

The revolution has begun. What is called for now is not jubilation at was has been accomplished, not triumph over the beaten foe, but the strictest self-criticism and iron concentration of energy in order to continue the work we have begun. For our accomplishments are small and the foe has not been beaten.

The Nationalities Question in the Russian Revolution (Rosa Luxemburg, 1918)

Rosa Luxemburg

Luxemburg reveals the counter-revolutionary nature and consequences of the Bolsheviks' nationalist policy of the "right of self-determination of peoples"

Originally published as Chapter II of the pamphlet The Russian Revolution, which was constituted out of notes prepared by Rosa Luxemburg in prison in 1918, and published posthumously.

Rosa Luxemburg in Retrospect - Paul Mattick

Mattick reconsiders the legacy of Rosa Luxemburg, particularly her critique of Bolshevism and her economic theory.

It will soon be sixty years since the mercenaries of the German social-democratic leadership murdered Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. Although they are mentioned in the same breath, as they both symbolized the radical element within the German political revolution of 1918, Rosa Luxemburg's name carries greater weight because her theoretical work was of greater seminal power.

Luxemburg versus Lenin - Paul Mattick

A comparison of Leninist vanguardism with Luxemburg's more subtle conceptions of working class organisation.

Organisational Questions of the Russian Revolution - Rosa Luxemburg

Rosa Luxemburg

This text is a translation of two articles entitled 'Organisational Questions of Russian Social Democracy', written by Rosa Luxemburg in 1904.

The translation was made by the United Workers' Party in America and first published in Britain in Pamphlet form in 1935 by the Anti- Parliamentary Communist Federation.

It was later republished by the Independent Labour Party in the 1960s and went under the title of "Leninism or Marxism?"

Opportunism and the Art of the Possible

Rosa argues in 1898 against "opportunism" in her Party.

Rosa Luxemburg Internet Archive

Opportunism and the art of the possible

Written: September 1898
Source: Sachsische Arbeiter zeitung, September 30, 1898
Transcription/Markup: Dario Romeo and Brian Basgen

Leninism or Marxism - Rosa Luxemburg

Leninism or Marxism was published as an article in 1904 under the title "Organisational Questions of the Russian Social Democracy" in Iskra and Neue Zeit, and later reprinted in pamphlet form titled Marxism vs. Leninism in 1935 by the Anti-Parliamentary Communist Federation.

Rosa Luxemburg's critique of Lenin's concept of revolutionary organisation, show the disagreements within the Marxist movements in Europe in the years preceding 1917; her comparisons with Blanquism and chillingly accurate predictions of the consequences of such organisation in a successful revolution are incredibly important to an understanding of the differing interpretations of Marx at that tim

Rosa Luxemburg, "The War and the Workers"-- The Junius Pamphlet (1916)

[The voting of war credits in August 1914 was a shattering moment in the life of individual socialists and of the socialist movement in Europe. Those who had worked for and wholly believed in the ability of organized labor to stand against war now saw the major social democratic parties of Germany, France, and England rush to the defense of their fatherlands. Worker solidarity had proved an impotent myth. Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) had for years warned against the stultifying effects of the overly bureaucratized German Social Democratic Party and the anti-revolutionary tendencies of the trade unions that played such a large role in the party's policy decisions. The abdication of 1914 had proved her right but had also dashed the revolutionary yearnings of a lifetime. While she was able to construct new hope from the revolutionary opportunities presented by the war, Luxemburg could not shake the knowledge that, whatever the outcome, the European working class would pay the greatest price in blood and suffering. Thrice handicapped--a woman, a Pole, and a Jew--Luxemburg was the most eloquent voice of the left wing of German Social Democracy, the defender of Marxist purity against all comers, and a constant advocate of radical action. She spent much of the war in jail, where she wrote and then smuggled out the pamphlet excerpted below. Published under the name "Junius," perhaps a reference to Lucius Junius Brutus, a legendary republican hero of ancient Rome, the pamphlet became the guiding statement for the International Group, which became the Spartacus League and ultimately the Communist Party of Germany (January 1, 1919). Luxemburg was instrumental in these developments and, along with Karl Liebknecht (1871-1919), led the Spartacists until their murder by right-wing vigilantes on January 15, 1919. Source: Günter Radczun (ed.), "Die Krise der Sozialdemokratie (Junius-Broschüre)," in Rosa Luxemburg, Politische Schriften (Leipzig, 1970), pp. 229-43, 357-72. Translated by Richard S. Levy.]


Chapter 1

The scene has changed fundamentally. The six weeks' march to Paris has grown into a world drama.[1] Mass slaughter has become the tiresome and monotonous business of the day and the end is no closer. Bourgeois statecraft is held fast in its own vise. The spirits summoned up can no longer be exorcised.

Gone is the euphoria. Gone the patriotic noise in the streets, the chase after the gold-colored automobile, one false telegram after another, the wells poisoned by cholera, the Russian students heaving bombs over every railway bridge in Berlin, the French airplanes over Nuremberg, the spy hunting public running amok in the streets, the swaying crowds in the coffee shops with ear-deafening patriotic songs surging ever higher, whole city neighborhoods transformed into mobs ready to denounce, to mistreat women, to shout hurrah and to induce delirium in themselves by means of wild rumors. Gone, too, is the atmosphere of ritual murder, the Kishinev air where the crossing guard is the only remaining representative of human dignity. [2]

The spectacle is over. German scholars, those "stumbling lemurs," have been whistled off the stage long ago. The trains full of reservists are no longer accompanied by virgins fainting from pure jubilation. They no longer greet the people from the windows of the train with joyous smiles. Carrying their packs, they quietly trot along the streets where the public goes about its daily business with aggrieved visages.

In the prosaic atmosphere of pale day there sounds a different chorus--the hoarse cries of the vulture and the hyenas of the battlefield. Ten thousand tarpaulins guaranteed up to regulations! A hundred thousand kilos of bacon, cocoa powder, coffee-substitute --c.o.d, immediate delivery! Hand grenades, lathes, cartridge pouches, marriage bureaus for widows of the fallen, leather belts, jobbers for war orders--serious offers only! The cannon fodder loaded onto trains in August and September is moldering in the killing fields of Belgium, the Vosges, and Masurian Lakes where the profits are springing up like weeds. It's a question of getting the harvest into the barn quickly. Across the ocean stretch thousands of greedy hands to snatch it up.

Business thrives in the ruins. Cities become piles of ruins; villages become cemeteries; countries, deserts; populations are beggared; churches, horse stalls. International law, treaties and alliances, the most sacred words and the highest authority have been torn in shreds. Every sovereign "by the grace of God" is called a rogue and lying scoundrel by his cousin on the other side. Every diplomat is a cunning rascal to his colleagues in the other party. Every government sees every other as dooming its own people and worthy only of universal contempt. There are food riots in Venice, in Lisbon, Moscow, Singapore. There is plague in Russia, and misery and despair everywhere.

Violated, dishonored, wading in blood, dripping filth--there stands bourgeois society. This is it [in reality]. Not all spic and span and moral, with pretense to culture, philosophy, ethics, order, peace, and the rule of law--but the ravening beast, the witches' sabbath of anarchy, a plague to culture and humanity. Thus it reveals itself in its true, its naked form.

In the midst of this witches' sabbath a catastrophe of world-historical proportions has happened: International Social Democracy has capitulated. To deceive ourselves about it, to cover it up, would be the most foolish, the most fatal thing the proletariat could do. Marx says: "...the democrat (that is, the petty bourgeois revolutionary) [comes] out of the most shameful defeats as unmarked as he naively went into them; he comes away with the newly gained conviction that he must be victorious, not that he or his party ought to give up the old principles, but that conditions ought to accommodate him." [3] The modern proletariat comes out of historical tests differently. Its tasks and its errors are both gigantic: no prescription, no schema valid for every case, no infallible leader to show it the path to follow. Historical experience is its only school mistress. Its thorny way to self-emancipation is paved not only with immeasurable suffering but also with countless errors. The aim of its journey--its emancipation depends on this--is whether the proletariat can learn from its own errors. Self-criticism, remorseless, cruel, and going to the core of things is the life's breath and light of the proletarian movement. The fall of the socialist proletariat in the present world war is unprecedented. It is a misfortune for humanity. But socialism will be lost only if the international proletariat fails to measure the depth of this fall, if it refuses to learn from it.

The last forty-five year period in the development of the modern labor movement now stands in doubt. What we are experiencing in this critique is a closing of accounts for what will soon be half a century of work at our posts. The grave of the Paris Commune ended the first phase of the European labor movement as well as the First International. [4] Since then there began a new phase. In place of spontaneous revolutions, risings, and barricades, after which the proletariat each time fell back into passivity, there began the systematic daily struggle, the exploitation of bourgeois parliamentarianism, mass organizations, the marriage of the economic with the political struggle, and that of socialist ideals with stubborn defense of immediate daily interests. For the first time the polestar of strict scientific teachings lit the way for the proletariat and for its emancipation. Instead of sects, schools, utopias, and isolated experiments in various countries, there arose a uniform, international theoretical basis which bound countries together like the strands of a rope. Marxist knowledge gave the working class of the entire world a compass by which it can make sense of the welter of daily events and by which it can always plot the right course to take to the fixed and final goal.

She who bore, championed, and protected this new method was German Social Democracy. The [Franco-Prussian] War and the defeat of the Paris Commune had shifted the center of gravity for the European workers' movement to Germany. As France was the classic site of the first phase of proletarian class struggle and Paris the beating, bleeding heart of the European laboring classes of those times, so the German workers became the vanguard of the second phase. By means of countless sacrifices and tireless attention to detail, they have built the strongest organization, the one most worthy of emulation; they created the biggest press, called the most effective means of education and enlightenment into being, gathered the most powerful masses of voters and attained the greatest number of parliamentary mandates. German Social Democracy was considered the purest embodiment of Marxist socialism. She had and laid claim to a special place in the Second International--its instructress and leader. [5]

In his famous 1895 foreword to Marx's The Class Struggles in France, 1848-1850, Friedrich Engels wrote:

No matter what happens in other countries, German Social Democracy has a special position and therefore a special task, at least for the time being. The two million voters it sends to the ballot box, and the young men and women who, although non-voters, stand behind them, constitute the most numerous and compact mass, the "decisive force" of the proletarian army.
German Social Democracy, as the Vienna Arbeiterzeitung wrote on August 5, 1914, was "the jewel of class-conscious proletarian organizations." In her footsteps trod the increasingly enthusiastic Social Democrats of France, Italy, and Belgium, the labor movements of Holland, Scandinavia, Switzerland, and the United States. The Slavic countries, the Russians, the Social Democrats of the Balkans looked upon [German Social Democracy] with limitless, nearly uncritical, admiration. In the Second International the German "decisive force" played the determining role. At the [international] congresses, in the meetings of the international socialist bureaus, all awaited the opinion of the Germans. Especially in the questions of the struggle against militarism and war, German Social Democracy always took the lead. "For us Germans that is unacceptable" regularly sufficed to decide the orientation of the Second International, which blindly bestowed its confidence upon the admired leadership of the mighty German Social Democracy: the pride of every socialist and the terror of the ruling classes everywhere.

And what did we in Germany experience when the great historical test came? The most precipitous fall, the most violent collapse. Nowhere has the organization of the proletariat been yoked so completely to the service of imperialism. Nowhere is the state of siege borne so docilely. [6] Nowhere is the press so hobbled, public opinion so stifled, the economic and political class struggle of the working class so totally surrendered as in Germany.

But German Social Democracy was not merely the strongest vanguard troop, it was the thinking head of the International. For this reason, we must begin the analysis, the self-examination process, with its fall. It has the duty to begin the salvation of international socialism, that means unsparing criticism of itself. None of the other parties, none of the other classes of bourgeois society, may look clearly and openly into the mirror of their own errors, their own weaknesses, for the mirror reflects their historical limitations and the historical doom that awaits them. The working class can boldly look truth straight in the face, even the bitterest self-renunciation, for its weaknesses are only confusion. The strict law of history gives back its power, stands guarantee for its final victory.

Unsparing self-criticism is not merely an essential for its existence but the working class' supreme duty. On our ship we have the most valuable treasures of mankind, and the proletariat is their ordained guardian! And while bourgeois society, shamed and dishonored by the bloody orgy, rushes headlong toward its doom, the international proletariat must and will gather up the golden treasure that, in a moment of weakness and confusion in the chaos of the world war, it has allowed to sink to the ground.

One thing is certain. The world war is a turning point. It is foolish and mad to imagine that we need only survive the war, like a rabbit waiting out the storm under a bush, in order to fall happily back into the old routine once it is over. The world war has altered the conditions of our struggle and, most of all, it has changed us. Not that the basic law of capitalist development, the life-and-death war between capital and labor, will experience any amelioration. But now, in the midst of the war, the masks are falling and the old familiar visages smirk at us. The tempo of development has received a mighty jolt from the eruption of the volcano of imperialism. The violence of the conflicts in the bosom of society, the enormousness of the tasks that tower up before the socialist proletariat--these make everything that has transpired in the history of the workers' movement seem a pleasant idyll.

Historically, this war was ordained to thrust forward the cause of the proletariat....It was ordained to drive the German proletariat to the pinnacle of the nation and thereby begin to organize the international and universal conflict between capital and labor for political power within the state.

And did we envision a different role for the working class in the world war? Let us recall how we, only a short while ago, were accustomed to describe the future:

Then comes the catastrophe. Then the great mobilization will take place in Europe; 16-18 million men, the flower of the various nations, armed with the best tools of death, will enter the field as enemies. But, I am convinced, that behind the great mobilization there stands the great havoc. It will not come through our agency, but rather yours. You are driving things to the limit. You are leading us to catastrophe. You will reap what you have sown. The Götterdämmerung of the bourgeois world approaches. Believe it! It is approaching! [All italics are Luxemburg's.]
Thus spoke our leader, [August] Bebel, during the Reichstag debate on the Morocco Crisis. [7]

Imperialism or Socialism?, the official party pamphlet distributed in hundreds of thousands of copies a few years ago, closes with these words:

Thus the struggle against imperialism develops ever more into the decisive struggle between capital and labor. War crises, rising prices, capitalism vs. peace, welfare for all, socialism! Thus is the question stated. History is moving toward great decisions. The proletariat must work unceasingly at its world-historical task, strengthen its organization, the clarity of its understanding. Then come what may, be it that [proletarian] power spares mankind the terrible cruelty of a world war, or be it that the capitalist world sinks into history in the same way as it was born, in blood and violence. [In either case] the historical hour will find the working class prepared--and preparation is everything. [All italics are Luxemburg's.]
The official Handbook for Social-Democratic Voters (1911), for the last Reichstag election, says on p. 42 concerning the expected world war:

Do our rulers and ruling classes expect the peoples to permit this awful thing? Will not a cry of horror, of scorn, of outrage not seize the peoples and cause them to put an end to this murder? Will they not ask: For whom? what's it all for? Are we mentally disturbed to be treated this way, to allow ourselves to be so treated? He who is calmly convinced of the probability of a great European war can come to no other conclusion than the following: The next European war will be such a desperate gamble as the world has never seen. In all probability it will be the last war.
With speeches and words such as these, our current Reichstag deputies acquired their 110 mandates.

In the summer of 1911, when the Panther made its lunge to Agadir [8] and the noisy agitation of the German imperialists put war in the immediate offing, an international meeting in London accepted the following resolution (August 4, 1911):

The delegates of the German, Spanish, English, Dutch, and French workers' organizations declare themselves to be ready to oppose any declaration of war with all the means at their disposal. Every represented nation undertakes the obligation, according to the resolutions of national and international congresses, to act against all criminal machinations of the ruling classes.

When, in November 1912, the congress of the International met in the minster at Basel and when the long procession of worker representatives entered the cathedral, everyone present felt a presentiment of the greatness of the coming destiny and a heroic resolve.

The cool, skeptical Victor Adler spoke:

Comrades, the most important thing is that we are here at the common source of our strength, that we can draw from this strength so that each can do in his own country what he can, according to the forms and means that we have, to oppose the crime of war with all the power we possess. And if it can be stopped, if it is really stopped, then we must see to it that it becomes a cornerstone for the end [of bourgeois society]. This is the moving spirit for the whole International. And if murder and arson and pestilence are unleashed throughout civilized Europe--we can only think of this with horror, outrage and indignation churning in our breasts. And we ask ourselves: are we men, are the proletarians of today still sheep that they can be led dumbly to slaughter?....
And [Jean] Jaures concluded the reading of the International Bureau's manifesto against the war with these words:

The International represents all the moral force of the world! And if the tragic hour strikes and we must give ourselves up to it, the consciousness of this will support and strengthen us. We do not merely say "no" but from the depth of our hearts we declare ourselves ready to sacrifice everything.
It was reminiscent of the Oath of Ruetli. [9] The world directed its gaze to the church at Basel where the bell sounded solemnly for the future great battle between the army of labor and the power of capital....

Even a week before the outbreak of war, on July 26, 1914, German party newspapers wrote:

We are not marionettes. We combat with all our energy a system that makes men into will-less tools of blind circumstance, this capitalism that seeks to transform a Europe thirsting for peace into a steaming slaughterhouse. If destruction has its way, if the united will to peace of the German, the international proletariat, which will make itself known in powerful demonstrations in the coming days, if the world war cannot be fended off, then at least this should be the last war, it should become the Götterdämmerung of capitalism. (Frankfurter Volksstimme)
Then on July 30, 1914, the central organ of German Social Democracy stated:

The socialist proletariat rejects any responsibility for the events being brought about by a blinded, a maddened ruling class. Let it be known that a new life shall bloom from the ruins. All responsibility falls to the wielders of power today! It is "to be or not to be!" "World-history is the world-court!"
And then came the unheard of, the unprecedented, the 4th of August 1914.

Did it have to come? An event of this scope is certainly no game of chance. It must have deep and wide-reaching objective causes. These causes can, however, also lie in the errors of the leader of the proletariat, the Social Democrats, in the waning of our fighting spirit, our courage, and loyalty to our convictions. Scientific socialism has taught us to comprehend the objective laws of historical development. Men do not make history according to their own free will. But they make history nonetheless. Proletarian action is dependent upon the degree of maturity in social development. However, social development is not independent of the proletariat but is equally its driving force and cause, its effect and consequence. [Proletarian] action participates in history. And while we can as little skip a stage of historical development as escape our shadow, we can certainly accelerate or retard history.

Socialism is the first popular movement in world history that has set itself the goal of bringing human consciousness, and thereby free will, into play in the social actions of mankind. For this reason, Friedrich Engels designated the final victory of the socialist proletariat a leap of humanity from the animal world into the realm of freedom. This "leap" is also an iron law of history bound to the thousands of seeds of a prior torment-filled and all-too-slow development. But this can never be realized until the development of complex material conditions strikes the incendiary spark of conscious will in the great masses. The victory of socialism will not descend from heaven. It can only be won by a long chain of violent tests of strength between the old and the new powers. The international proletariat under the leadership of the Social Democrats will thereby learn to try to take its history into its own hands; instead of remaining a will-less football, it will take the tiller of social life and become the pilot to the goal of its own history.

Friedrich Engels once said: "Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to socialism or regression into barbarism." What does "regression into barbarism" mean to our lofty European civilization? Until now, we have all probably read and repeated these words thoughtlessly, without suspecting their fearsome seriousness. A look around us at this moment shows what the regression of bourgeois society into barbarism means. This world war is a regression into barbarism. The triumph of imperialism leads to the annihilation of civilization. At first, this happens sporadically for the duration of a modern war, but then when the period of unlimited wars begins it progresses toward its inevitable consequences. Today, we face the choice exactly as Friedrich Engels foresaw it a generation ago: either the triumph of imperialism and the collapse of all civilization as in ancient Rome, depopulation, desolation, degeneration--a great cemetery. Or the victory of socialism, that means the conscious active struggle of the international proletariat against imperialism and its method of war. This is a dilemma of world history, an either/or; the scales are wavering before the decision of the class-conscious proletariat. The future of civilization and humanity depends on whether or not the proletariat resolves manfully to throw its revolutionary broadsword into the scales. In this war imperialism has won. Its bloody sword of genocide has brutally tilted the scale toward the abyss of misery. The only compensation for all the misery and all the shame would be if we learn from the war how the proletariat can seize mastery of its own destiny and escape the role of the lackey to the ruling classes.

Dearly bought is the modern working class' understanding of its historical vocation. Its emancipation as a class is sown with fearful sacrifices, a veritable path to Golgotha. The June days, the sacrifice of the Commune, the martyrs of the Russian Revolution--a dance of bloody shadows without number. [10] All fell on the field of honor. They are, as Marx wrote about the heroes of the Commune, eternally "enshrined in the great heart of the working class." Now, millions of proletarians of all tongues fall upon the field of dishonor, of fratricide, lacerating themselves while the song of the slave is on their lips. This, too, we are not spared. We are like the Jews that Moses led through the desert. But we are not lost, and we will be victorious if we have not unlearned how to learn. And if the present leaders of the proletariat, the Social Democrats, do not understand how to learn, then they will go under "to make room for people capable of dealing with a new world."

Chapter 8

In spite of the military dictatorship and censorship of the press, in spite of the abdication of the Social Democrats, in spite of the fratricidal war, the class struggle rises with elemental force from out of the Burgfrieden; [11] and the international solidarity of labor from out of the bloody mists of the battlefield. Not in the weak and artificial attempts to galvanize the old International, not in pledges renewed here and there to stand together again after the war. No! Now in and from the war the fact emerges with a wholly new power and energy that the proletarians of all lands have one and the same interests. The war itself dispels the illusion it has created.

Victory or defeat? Thus sounds the slogan of the ruling militarism in all the warring countries, and, like an echo, the Social Democratic leaders have taken it up. Supposedly, victory or defeat on the battlefield should be for the proletarians of Germany, France, England, or Russia exactly the same as for the ruling classes of these countries. As soon as the cannons thunder, every proletarian should be interested in the victory of his own country and, therefore, in the defeat of the other countries. Let us see what such a victory can bring to the proletariat.

According to official version, adopted uncritically by the Social Democratic leaders, German victory holds the prospect of unlimited economic growth, while defeat means economic ruin. This conception rests upon the pattern of the war of 1870. However, the flourishing capitalism following that war was not the consequence of the war but of the political unification, even though this came in the crippled form of Bismarck's German Empire. Economic growth proceeded out of unification despite the war and the many reactionary obstacles that came in its wake. What the victorious war contributed to all this was the entrenchment of the military monarchy in Germany and the rule of the Prussian Junkers; the defeat of France helped liquidate the [Second] Empire and establish the [Third] Republic.

But today matters are quite different in the belligerent states. Today war does not function as a dynamic method of procuring for rising young capitalism the preconditions of its "national" development. War has this character only in the isolated and fragmentary case of Serbia. Reduced to its historically objective essence, today's world war is entirely a competitive struggle amongst fully mature capitalisms for world domination, for the exploitation of the remaining zones of the world not yet capitalistic. That is why this war is totally different in character and effects. The high degree of economic development in the capitalist world is expressed in the extraordinarily advanced technology, that is, in the destructive power of the weaponry which approaches the same level in all the warring nations. The international organization of the murder industry is reflected now in the military balance, the scales of which always right themselves after partial decisions and momentary changes; a general decision is always and again pushed into the future. The indecisiveness of military results leads to ever new reserves from the population masses of warring and hitherto neutral nations being sent into fire. The war finds abundant material to feed imperialist appetites and contradictions, creates its own supplies of these, and spreads like wildfire. But the mightier the masses and the more numerous the nations dragged into the war on all sides, the more drawn out its existence will be.

Considered all together, and before any decision regarding military victory or defeat has been taken, the effect of the war will be unlike any phenomenon of earlier wars in the modern age: the economic ruin of all belligerents and to an increasing degree that of the formally neutral as well. Every additional month of the war affirms and extends this result and postpones the expected fruits of military success for decades. In the last analysis, neither victory nor defeat can change any of this. On the contrary, it makes a purely military decision extremely unlikely and leads one to conclude the greater probability that the war will end finally with the most general and mutual exhaustion.

In these circumstances a victorious Germany would win but a Pyrrhic victory, even should its imperialistic warmongers succeed in the total defeat of all its enemies through mass murder and thus realize its audacious dream. [Germany's] trophies would be: a few beggared and depopulated territories to annex. Under its own roof would be a leering ruin. And once the stage scenery of war loan financing and the Potemkin villages [12] of war contracts and unshakable national prosperity are pushed aside it will be immediately seen [as the ruin it is]. It must be clear even to the most superficial observer that the most victorious state can not expect any reparations that would even come close to healing the wounds inflicted by this war. A replacement for this and a complement of "victory" would be the perhaps even greater economic ruin of the conquered side: France and England, the very countries most closely connected economically to Germany and upon whose welfare she is most dependent for her own recovery. After a "victorious" war the German people would have to pay back the war credits granted by the patriotic parliament, that is, in reality have to bear an immense burden of taxation while enduring a strengthened military reaction--the only lasting, tangible fruit of "victory."

If we seek to imagine the worst results of a [military] defeat, then, aside from the imperialist annexations, they present feature for feature essentially the same consequences as would have issued from victory. The consequences of waging war are today so deeply embedded and far-reaching in nature that the military outcome has only minimal effects upon it.

Nevertheless, let us accept for the moment, that the victorious state would understand how to throw off the burden of great ruin from itself onto its defeated opponent and to hamstring its economic development with all sorts of obstacles. Can the trade union struggles of the German working class go forward after the war if the union action of the French, English, Belgian, and Italian workers is thwarted by economic regression? Until 1870 the workers' movement operated independently in each country; sometimes key decisions were taken in individual cities. It was in Paris on whose cobblestones the battles of the proletariat were joined and decided. The labor movement of today, [because of] its more arduous daily economic struggle, bases its mass organization on cooperation [with worker movements] in all capitalist countries. If the principle is valid that the workers' cause can flourish only on the basis of a healthy, powerfully pulsating economic life, then it is valid not only for Germany but also for France, England, Belgium, Russia, Italy. And if the workers' movement stagnates in all the capitalist countries of Europe, if there exist low wages, weak unions, and slight resistance to exploitation, then it will be impossible for the trade union movement to thrive in Germany. From this standpoint and in the last analysis, it is exactly the same loss for the situation of the proletariat if German capitalism enriches itself at the cost of the French or the English at the cost of the German.

Let us turn, however, to the political results of the war. Here differentiation ought to be easier than in the economic area. Historically, the sympathies and partisanship of the socialists have been on the side fighting for historical progress and against reaction. Which side in the present war represents progress and which reaction? Clearly, this question cannot be answered on the basis of the superficial labels of the warring states, such as "democracy" or "absolutism." Rather, [the question should be judged] on the actual objective tendencies they represent in world politics. Before we can judge what benefits a German victory would bring to the German proletariat, we must see what the effects [of such a victory] would have upon the overall shape of European political relationships.

The definitive victory of Germany would result in the immediate annexation of Belgium, as well as additional strips of territory in east and west, wherever feasible, and a part of the French colonies. The Habsburg monarchy would be preserved and enriched with new regions. Finally, Turkey, retaining a fictional "integrity," would become a German protectorate which would mean the simultaneous transformation of the Middle East into de facto German provinces, whatever the form. The actual military and economic hegemony of Germany in Europe would logically follow these results.

These results of a decisive German military victory will come about, not because they correspond to the wishes of imperialist agitators in this war, but because they are the wholly inevitable consequences emanating from Germany's position in the world and from the original conflicts with England, France, and Russia that have grown tremendously beyond their initial dimensions during the course of the war. It will suffice to put these results into context by understanding that under no circumstances will it be possible to maintain any sort of balance of power in the world.

The war means ruin for all the belligerents, although more so for the defeated. On the day after the concluding of peace, preparations for a new world war will be begun under the leadership of England in order to throw off the yoke of Prusso-German militarism burdening Europe and the Near East. A German victory would be only a prelude to a soon-to-follow second world war; and this would be the signal for a new, feverish arms race as well as the unleashing of the blackest reaction in all countries, but first and foremost in Germany itself.

On the other hand, an Anglo-French victory would most probably lead to the loss of at least some German colonies, as well as Alsace-Lorraine. Quite certain would be the bankruptcy of German imperialism on the world stage. But that also means the partition of Austria-Hungary and the total liquidation of Turkey. The fall of such arch-reactionary creatures as these two states is wholly in keeping with the demands of progressive development. [But] the fall of the Habsburg monarchy as well as Turkey, in the concrete situation of world politics, can have no other effect than to put their peoples in pawn to Russia, England, France, and Italy. Add to this grandiose redrawing of the world map power shifts in the Balkans and the Mediterranean and a further one in Asia. The liquidation of Persia and a new dismemberment of China will inevitably follow.

In the wake [of these changes] the English-Russian, as well as the English-Japanese, conflict will move into the foreground of world politics. And directly upon the liquidation of this world war, these [conflicts] may lead to a new world war, perhaps over Constantinople, and would certainly make it likely. Thus, from this side, too, [an Anglo-French] victory would lead to a new feverish armaments race among all the states--with defeated Germany obviously in the forefront. An era of unalloyed militarism and reaction would dominate all Europe with a new world war as its ultimate goal.

Thus proletarian policy is locked in a dilemma when trying to decide on which side it ought to intervene, which side represents progress and democracy in this war. In these circumstances, and from the perspective of international politics as a whole, victory or defeat, in political as well as economic terms, comes down to a hopeless choice between two kinds of beatings for the European working classes. Therefore, it is nothing but fatal madness when the French socialists imagine that the military defeat of Germany will strike a blow at the head of militarism and imperialism and thereby pave the way for peaceful democracy in the world. Imperialism and its servant, militarism, will calculate their profits from every victory and every defeat in this war--except in one case: if the international proletariat intervenes in a revolutionary way and puts an end to such calculations.

This war's most important lesson for the policy of the proletariat is the unassailable fact that it cannot parrot the slogan Victory or Defeat, not in Germany or in France, not in England or in Russia. Only from the standpoint of imperialism does this slogan have any real content. For every Great Power it is identical to the question of gain or loss of political standing, of annexations, colonies, and military predominance. From the standpoint of class for the European proletariat as a whole the victory and defeat of any of the warring camps is equally disastrous.

It is war as such, no matter how it ends militarily, that signifies the greatest defeat for Europe's proletariat. It is only the overcoming of war and the speediest possible enforcement of peace by the international militancy of the proletariat that can bring victory to the workers' cause. And in reality this victory alone can simultaneously rescue Belgium as well as democracy in Europe.

The class-conscious proletariat cannot identify with any of the military camps in this war. Does it follow that proletarian policy ought to demand maintenance of the status quo, that we have no other action program beyond the wish that everything should be as it was before the war? But existing conditions have never been our ideal; they have never expressed the self-determination of peoples. Furthermore, the earlier conditions are no longer to be saved; they no longer exist, even if historic state borders continue to exist. Even before its results have been formally established, the war has already brought about immense confusion in power relationships, the reciprocal estimate of forces, of alliances, and conflicts. It has sharply revised the relations between states and of classes within society. So many old illusions and potencies have been destroyed, so many new forces and problems have been created that a return to the old Europe as it existed before August 4, 1914 is out of the question. [It is] as out of the question as a return to pre-revolutionary conditions even after a defeated revolution.

Proletarian policy knows no retreat; it can only struggle forward. It must always go beyond the existing and the newly created. In this sense alone, it is legitimate for the proletariat to confront both camps of imperialists in the world war with a policy of its own.

But this policy can not consist of social democratic parties holding international conferences where they individually or collectively compete to discover ingenious recipes with which bourgeois diplomats ought to make the peace and ensure the further peaceful development of democracy. All demands for complete or partial "disarmament," for the dismantling of secret diplomacy, for the partition of all multinational great states into small national one, and so forth are part and parcel utopian as long as capitalist class domination holds the reins. [Capitalism] cannot, under its current imperialist course, dispense with present-day militarism, secret diplomacy, or the centralized multinational state. In fact, it would be more pertinent for the realization of these postulates to make just one simple "demand": abolition of the capitalist class state.

It is not through utopian advice and schemes to tame, ameliorate, or reform imperialism within the framework of the bourgeois state that proletarian policy can reconquer its leading place. The actual problem that the world war has posed to the socialist parties, upon the solution of which the destiny of the workers' movement depends, is this: the capacity of the proletarian masses for action in the battle against imperialism. The proletariat does not lack for postulates, prognoses, slogans; it lacks deeds, the capacity for effective resistance to imperialism at the decisive moment, to intervene against it during [not after] the war and to convert the old slogan "war against war" into practice. Here is the crux of the matter, the Gordian knot of proletarian politics and its long term future.

Imperialism and all its political brutality, the chain of incessant social catastrophes that it has let loose, is undoubtedly an historical necessity for the ruling classes of the contemporary capitalist world. Nothing would be more fatal for the proletariat than to delude itself into believing that it were possible after this war to rescue the idyllic and peaceful continuation of capitalism. However, the conclusion to be drawn by proletarian policy from the historical necessity of imperialism is that surrender to imperialism will mean living forever in its victorious shadow and eating from its leftovers.

The historical dialectic moves forward by contradiction, and establishes in the world the antithesis of every necessity. Bourgeois class domination is undoubtedly an historical necessity, but, so too, the rising of the working class against it. Capital is an historical necessity, but, so too, its grave digger, the socialist proletariat. Imperialist world domination is an historical necessity, but, so too, its destruction by the proletarian international. Step for step there are two historical necessities in conflict with one another. Ours, the necessity of socialism, has the greater stamina. Our necessity enters into its full rights the moment that the other--bourgeois class domination--ceases to be the bearer of historical progress, when it becomes an obstacle, a danger to the further development of society. The capitalist world order, as revealed by the world war, has today reached this point.

The expansionist imperialism of capitalism, the expression of its highest stage of development and its last phase of existence, produces the [following] economic tendencies: it transforms the entire world into the capitalist mode of production; all outmoded, pre-capitalist forms of production and society are swept away; it converts all the world's riches and means of production into capital, the working masses of all zones into wage slaves. In Africa and Asia, from the northernmost shores to the tip of South America and the South Seas, the remnant of ancient primitive communist associations, feudal systems of domination, patriarchal peasant economies, traditional forms of craftsmanship are annihilated, crushed by capital; whole peoples are destroyed and ancient cultures flattened. All are supplanted by profit mongering in its most modern form.

This brutal victory parade of capital through the world, its way prepared by every means of violence, robbery, and infamy, has its light side. It creates the preconditions for its own final destruction. It put into place the capitalist system of world domination, the indispensable precondition for the socialist world revolution. This alone constitutes the cultural, progressive side of its reputed "great work of civilization" in the primitive lands. For bourgeois-liberal economists and politicians, railroads, Swedish matches, sewer systems, and department stores are "progress" and "civilization." In themselves these works grafted onto primitive conditions are neither civilization nor progress, for they are bought with the rapid economic and cultural ruin of peoples who must experience simultaneously the full misery and horror of two eras: the traditional natural economic system and the most modern and rapacious capitalist system of exploitation. Thus, the capitalist victory parade and all its works bear the stamp of progress in the historical sense only because they create the material preconditions for the abolition of capitalist domination and class society in general. And in this sense imperialism ultimately works for us.

The world war is a turning point. For the first time, the ravening beasts set loose upon all quarters of the globe by capitalist Europe have broken into Europe itself. A cry of horror went through the world when Belgium, that precious jewel of European civilization, and when the most august cultural monuments of northern France fell into shards under the impact of the blind forces of destruction. This same "civilized world" looked on passively as the same imperialism ordained the cruel destruction of ten thousand Herero tribesmen and filled the sands of the Kalahari with the mad shrieks and death rattles of men dying of thirst; [13] [the "civilized world" looked on] as forty thousand men on the Putumayo River [Columbia] were tortured to death within ten years by a band of European captains of industry, while the rest of the people were made into cripples; as in China where an age-old culture was put to the torch by European mercenaries, practiced in all forms of cruelty, annihilation, and anarchy; as Persia was strangled, powerless to resist the tightening noose of foreign domination; as in Tripoli where fire and sword bowed the Arabs beneath the yoke of capitalism, destroyed their culture and habitations. Only today has this "civilized world" become aware that the bite of the imperialist beast brings death, that its very breath is infamy. Only now has [the civilized world] recognized this, after the beast's ripping talons have clawed its own mother's lap, the bourgeois civilization of Europe itself. And even this knowledge is grappled with in the distorted form of bourgeois hypocrisy. Every people recognizes the infamy only in the national uniform of the enemy. "German barbarians!"--as though every people that marches out to do organized murder were not transformed instantly into a barbarian horde. "Cossack atrocities!"--as though war itself were not the atrocity of atrocities, as though the praising of human slaughter as heroism in a socialist youth paper were not the purest example of intellectual cossack-dom!

None the less, the imperialist bestiality raging in Europe's fields has one effect about which the "civilized world" is not horrified and for which it has no breaking heart: that is the mass destruction of the European proletariat. Never before on this scale has a war exterminated whole strata of the population; not for a century have all the great and ancient cultural nations of Europe been attacked. Millions of human lives have been destroyed in the Vosges, the Ardennes, in Belgium, Poland, in the Carpathians, on the Save. Millions have been crippled. But of these millions, nine out of ten are working people from the city and the countryside.

It is our strength, our hope, that is mown down day after day like grass under the sickle. The best, most intelligent, most educated forces of international socialism, the bearers of the holiest traditions and the boldest heroes of the modern workers' movement, the vanguard of the entire world proletariat, the workers of England, France, Belgium, Germany, Russia--these are the ones now being hamstrung and led to the slaughter. These workers of the leading capitalist countries of Europe are exactly the ones who have the historical mission of carrying out the socialist transformation. Only from out of Europe, only from out of the oldest capitalist countries will the signal be given when the hour is ripe for the liberating social revolution. Only the English, French, Belgian, German, Russian, Italian workers together can lead the army of the exploited and enslaved of the five continents. When the time comes, only they can settle accounts with capitalism's work of global destruction, with its centuries of crime committed against primitive peoples.

But to push ahead to the victory of socialism we need a strong, activist, educated proletariat, and masses whose power lies in intellectual culture as well as numbers. These masses are being decimated by the world war. The flower of our mature and youthful strength, hundreds of thousands of whom were socialistically schooled in England, France, Belgium, Germany, and Russia, the product of decades of educational and agitational training, and other hundreds of thousands who could be won for socialism tomorrow, fall and molder on the miserable battlefields. The fruits of decades of sacrifice and the efforts of generations are destroyed in a few weeks. The key troops of the international proletariat are torn up by the roots.

The blood-letting of the June days [1848] paralyzed the French workers' movement for a decade and a half. Then the blood-letting of the Commune massacres again retarded it for more than a decade. What is now occurring is an unprecedented mass slaughter that is reducing the adult working population of all the leading civilized countries to women, old people, and cripples. This blood-letting threatens to bleed the European workers' movement to death. Another such world war and the outlook for socialism will be buried beneath the rubble heaped up by imperialist barbarism. This is more [significant] than the ruthless destruction of Liege and the Rheims cathedral. This is an assault, not on the bourgeois culture of the past, but on the socialist culture of the future, a lethal blow against that force which carries the future of humanity within itself and which alone can bear the precious treasures of the past into a better society. Here capitalism lays bear its death's head; here it betrays the fact that its historical rationale is used up; its continued domination is no longer reconcilable to the progress of humanity.

The world war today is demonstrably not only murder on a grand scale; it is also suicide of the working classes of Europe. The soldiers of socialism, the proletarians of England, France, Germany, Russia, and Belgium have for months been killing one another at the behest of capital. They are driving the cold steel of murder into each other's hearts. Locked in the embrace of death, they tumble into a common grave.

"Deutschland, Deutschland über Alles! Long live democracy! Long live the Tsar and Slav-dom! Ten thousand tarpaulins guaranteed up to regulations! A hundred thousand kilos of bacon, coffee-substitute for immediate delivery!"...Dividends are rising, and the proletarians are falling. And with every one there sinks into the grave a fighter of the future, a soldier of the revolution, mankind's savior from the yoke of capitalism.

The madness will cease and the bloody demons of hell will vanish only when workers in Germany and France, England and Russia finally awake from their stupor, extend to each other a brotherly hand, and drown out the bestial chorus of imperialist war-mongers and the shrill cry of capitalist hyenas with labor's old and mighty battle cry: Proletarians of all lands, unite!



James Joll, The Second International, 1889-1914 (2nd rev. ed, London, 1974)

J. P. Nettl, Rosa Luxemburg. Abridged ed. (London, 1967)

W. L. Guttsman, The German Social Democratic Party, 1875-1933 (London, 1981)


[1] Six weeks was the time allotted for victory on the Western Front by the Schlieffen Plan. The general staff was forced to scrap the plan in October 1914, as the war of movement swiftly evolved into grinding trench warfare. Jump back to text.

[2] For three days in April 1903, Kishinev, the provincial capital of Bessarabia in the Russian Empire, was the scene of an anti-Jewish riot. According to an official report, more than fifty Jews were killed and over five hundred injured; hundreds of homes and shops were plundered and vandalized. Local authorities supported antisemitic organizations and deliberately maximized the carnage by holding back on the use of force to reestablish order. Luxemburg here uses the reference to the Kishinev pogrom and to "ritual murder"--the medieval belief that Jews used the blood of Christians, usually children, for ritual purposes--as the nadir of civilization. Jump back to text.

[3] Quoting Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852). Jump back to text.

[4] At the close of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, besieged Paris revolted against the regular French government (sitting in Bordeaux). For ten weeks representatives of the working class, organized as the Commune, ruled "the capital of Europe" with an efficiency and fairness that surprised and disturbed the propertied classes all over Europe. Recouping its forces, the elected French government retook Paris in street-by-street fighting marked by wanton atrocities and destruction of property on both sides. The First International, founded by Karl Marx in 1864, was falsely accused of fomenting the Commune. Its true purpose was to unite working class parties in pursuit of the revolutionary goals first outlined in the Communist Manifesto (1848). But doctrinal divisions and factionalism paralyzed the organization which met for the last time in Philadelphia in 1874. Jump back to text.

[5] The successor to the First International, the Second took form in 1889 and recruited most of the Social Democratic parties of Europe from its central offices in Brussels. World War I destroyed the viability of the organization, although it continued to function as the voice of moderate socialists as opposed to the more radical communist parties arrayed in Lenin's Third International or Comintern (1919-43). Jump back to text.

[6] With mobilization at the outbreak of the war, the role of the civilian sector in Germany shrank continually. The country was divided into defense sectors and commanding generals within these took over all the functions of government; they could suspend civil rights, arrest individuals under the guise of protective custody, and exercize considerable powers of censorship. Thus they were able to stifle dissent and particularly to restrict news of the military failures. Jump back to text.

[7] August Bebel (1840-1913), a rarity in the leadership of the European socialist movement, an authentic worker, singlehandedly organized the Marxist branch of the German labor movement in the 1860s and then guided it until his death. The Second Morocco Crisis of 1911 aroused fears of imminent European war. The crisis resolution entailed Germany's recognition of a French protectorate in exchange for a large, relatively worthless strip of French Equatorial Africa. While Britain strongly supported its French ally, Germany had had to back down when its own allies showed clear unwillingness to go to war on behalf of overseas interests. Nationalists at home regarded the outcome as a humiliation, further proof that the kaiser's government was incapable of directing the drive for world power. Leftists saw the crisis as ominous proof of the intentions of militarists and imperialists. Jump back to text.

[8] Sending the German gunboat, Panther, to Agadir, a port in Morocco, was the kaiser's way of announcing his intention of protecting German interests. The symbolic attempt to preempt French designs on erecting a protectorate over Morocco was seen as a provocation and helped the conflict in interest escalate into a full-blown crisis. Jump back to text.

[9] According to legend, Wilhelm Tell and representatives of three Swiss cantons met at Ruetli in 1307 to pledge resistance against Austrian tyranny, the traditional foundation of Swiss freedom. Jump back to text.

[10] In June 1848, four months after the revolutionary overthrow of the Orleanist monarchy in France, the conservative bourgeoisie regained control of Paris amid street-fighting and great bloodshed. The defeat of the Parisian communards in June 1871 by regular French forces was accompanied by mass executions and later deportations. The Russian revolution referred to by Luxemburg took place in 1905. Briefly, working class soviets (councils) controlled St. Petersburg and Moscow, but tsarist forces were able to quell the revolutionaries and reestablish a somewhat modified autocracy. Jump back to text.

[11] The Burgfrieden, literally the "peace of the castle" imposed upon all those seeking shelter in a fortified spot during the Middle Ages, signified the political truce agreed upon by the political parties represented in the Reichstag at the outbreak of the war. After voting the credits that made the war financially possible, members of the Reichstag suspended further elections for the duration of hostilities and declared a cessation of "politics." Essentially, the civilian sector abdicated its responsibility to participate in policy making, leaving all major decisions in the hands of the kaiser's government and then in those of the general staff of the armed forces. This behavior contrasted sharply with that of the western democracies where, all through the war, it was "politics as usual." Only toward the end of the war, did the Reichstag reconquer some of the lost ground of 1914. Jump back to text.

[12] Count Gregory Alexandrovich Potemkin (1724-91) was said to have deceived Catherine the Great of Russia with cardboard facades of new villages he was supposed to have constructed. Jump back to text.

[13] The Herero tribesmen rebelled against German control of their homeland in Southwest Africa, 1903-07. During the brutal wars of pacification, German troops forced men, women, and children into the Kalahari desert where many perished. The extraction of rubber from along the Putumayo River was accompanied by horrifying exploitation of native laborers. Jump back to text.