Rosa Luxemburg’s differences with Lenin are fairly well known. Already in 1904, she wrote an article entitled “Organizational Questions of the Russian Social Democracy,” which appeared in Iskra (after Lenin’s resignation, under an opportunist editorial board), in which she disagreed with Lenin on the need for democratic centralism in the party. At various times she wrote articles opposing the right of nations to self-determination. Finally, in September of 1918, while still in jail for her opposition to the imperialist World War I, she wrote a small pamphlet called “The Russian Revolution,” which contained a friendly but critical view of some aspects of the Bolshevik Revolution. It is to these last criticisms in particular that Clara Zetkin refers in her 1922 book: “Rosa Luxemburg’s Attitude towards the Russian Revolution,” which has never before been translated into English.
In “The Russian Revolution,” Luxemburg criticized the Bolsheviks for supposedly rejecting democratic institutions, in particular by dissolving the Constituent Assembly at its first session in January 1918. The Assembly had been elected immediately after the October Revolution, but that revolution had already given all power to the Workers’, Peasants’ and Soldiers’ Soviets (Councils). But at the time that Luxemburg wrote her pamphlet, circumstances in Germany were different. World War I was still raging and Kaiser Wilhelm was still emperor of Germany. In November 1918 the Kaiser was overthrown and the German army disintegrated, leading to the end of World War I. At that point, the workers and soldiers formed their own councils, mainly in Berlin but also and in other cities and states in Germany. These councils were still under the leadership of the two social- democratic parties (as the Russian Soviets had been under the leadership of the Russian opportunist Mensheviks and Social-Revolutionaries in the months between the February and October Revolutions). However, under revolutionary leadership, they could have formed a counter-pole to the bourgeois government in Germany.
Luxemburg had spent much of the last years of her life criticizing the reformist and opportunist positions of Germany’s two social-democratic parties, the S.P.D. (Social-Democratic Party of Germany) and the U.S.P.D. (Independent Social-Democratic Party of Germany), both of which in essence supported Germany during World War I. She, together with Karl Liebknecht, Wilhelm Pieck, Leo Jogiches, Paul Levi and others, formed the Spartacus League and later the Communist Party of Germany. The League and the Party worked for a proletarian revolution at the end of the war.
The Spartacus League leaders, and Rosa Luxemburg in particular, opposed calling for the elections of a National Assembly (the equivalent of the Russian Constituent Assembly) in Germany, and directed all their energy to calling on the masses to give “All power to the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils!” In January of 1919, there was an unsuccessful uprising in Berlin by soldiers, supported initially by the Independent Social-Democratic Party and the revolutionary shop stewards. The Communist Party supported this as a mass uprising in defence of the democratic gains of the November Revolution, although they clearly realized that this uprising could not lead to a successful seizure of power by the working class. However, the bourgeoisie, with its social-democratic government, was able to suppress this uprising. Luxemburg and Liebknecht were both arrested and murdered on January 15, 1919, by soldiers under the direction of the S.P.D. government. This was a serious setback to the workers’ revolution in Germany.
Clara Zetkin in her book, particularly in this fourth chapter, shows in detail how Luxemburg, through her articles in the Rote Fahne (Red Flag), took up in practice the same attitude of principle in opposition to the National Assembly in Germany as the Bolsheviks did toward the Constituent Assembly in Russia. Zetkin points out how, though Luxemburg and other members of the Spartacus League had no time to write a political treatise on this question, they raised the same question as the Bolsheviks, that the choice was either proletarian or bourgeois democracy.
Various social democrats and other opportunist and reactionary forces have always tried to use Luxemburg against Lenin and the Bolsheviks. For example Bertram D. Wolfe, a one-time leader of the Communist Party USA, later a supporter of Lovestone, finally became an open anti-communist who worked for the U.S. State Department. In the early 1960s Wolfe republished two of Luxemburg’s pamphlets (with his own reactionary introduction) the 1904 pamphlet mentioned above, under the distorted title “Marxism vs. Leninism,” and “The Russian Revolution.” In an article in 1907, Lenin criticized those forces that tried to play on differences among revolutionaries because of criticisms he made of certain errors by German revolutionary social-democrats. He ended with a famous statement: “Eagles sometimes fly lower than hens, but hens can never fly as high as eagles!” Zetkin in her book shows that it was Luxemburg’s revolutionary positions and practice that stood out, particularly in the last months of her life. At the end, Luxemburg’s eagle was truly flying high.
Rosa Luxemburg would not have been herself if, following her release from prison, she had not immediately thrown herself into the thunderous rapids of revolutionary events. However, she did not let herself be swept away or overwhelmed by these events, unlike the leaders of the Majority Social Democrats1 and the Independents,2 who on the eve of November 9 had either tried to prevent the Revolution or did not believe it was happening. On the contrary, she concentrated her greatest energy in understanding the revolutionary events and bringing their meaning to the consciousness of the masses and thereby to clarify its goals to raise the uncertain and vacillating rebels to the level where they were determined actors in the Revolution. The Majority Social Democrats and Independent “anti-Bolsheviks” slander Rosa Luxemburg, when they try to portray her commitment to the proletarian dictatorship and the council system, her passionate struggle against the National Assembly and her exposure of bourgeois democracy as if it were some sort of temporary misunderstanding, a mistaken, careless accident, as an emotion-driven lapse that swept her away, as if her clear mind was carried away by her warm heart. For this sharp and bold thinker, the thought that arose from her historical conviction was never the burned out, grey ashes left over from the action, but rather the luminous flame that set the deed afire.
Thus her changed attitude toward the most difficult problems of the proletarian revolution was the result of careful consideration and the intellectual mastery of the historical situation and the basic conditions that set the stage for the working people’s struggle for liberation. Rosa Luxemburg arrived at a basic fundamental outlook that guided her activity during the revolutionary period she was able to experience. This activity was the most determined and devoted struggle to push the revolution forward by the proletarian masses, who had to be rid of all the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois illusions that had been built up by the Majority Social Democrats and the Independents competing to make it their concern. She did this before the broadest public, and it can be found in a classic document: The “Rote Fahne” (Red Flag).3 This document proves that a little more than a week of self-reflection was enough for Rosa Luxemburg’s superior mind to give a clear and firm answer to the questions that had been put on the historical agenda by the November Revolution also in Germany: Council state power or National Assembly? Bourgeois democracy or revolution? That is, civil war or dictatorship of the proletariat?
The “Rote Fahne” waved for the first time before the proletarian masses on November 9 as the second evening edition of the “Berliner Lokalanzeiger4,” which had been occupied in the late evening hours by members of the “Spartacist5” group. The “revolutionary” content of the improvised first issue had to be in limited to incomplete reports on the political uprising in Berlin due to technical difficulties. The second issue on the contrary shows the desire to elevate the political uprising to the level of proletarian revolution. At the top of the sheet was the announcement of the conclusions that had been unanimously decided on by the just elected workers and soldiers councils. They were: “All men and women workers shall assemble in the factories on Sunday, November 10 at 10 a.m and elect workers’ councils. Women are eligible for election. (Employees are to be regarded as workers.) All soldiers should assemble in the barracks and military hospitals and elect Soldiers’ Councils.... At 5 p.m. the chosen workers and soldiers council should assemble in the Busch Circus and choose the provisional government.”
A call: “To the workers and soldiers in Berlin,” commented on the events and set forth a programme of10 demands, which the proletariat “with full determination and indomitable fighting spirit” must carry out. Under item 1 it called for “disarming all police, all officers, and the soldiers who did not stand with the new order; arming the people; all soldiers and proletarians, who are armed, should keep their weapons.” It is characterized by the following demands: “Elimination of the Reichstag6 and all parliaments and the existing imperial government; the takeover of the government by the Berlin workers and soldiers’ council until the establishment of a national workers and soldiers’ council; Item 7. Election of workers and soldiers’ councils throughout Germany, which will have exclusive legislative and administrative authority. The entire adult population of working people in the cities and the countryside are to participate in the vote, without distinction by gender....
“Item 10. The immediate recall of the Russian Embassy to Berlin.” The call is not signed; it was directed either by the editors or by the Berlin Spartacus group to the workers and soldiers. There follows a “Greeting to the Russian Soviet Republic” from the “Rote Fahne” (Spartacus tendency). In other articles in this issue “the Spartacus group calls for meetings of factories, soldiers’ councils, workers’ committees, trade unions and political organizations.” Among other things it asks: “In addition to the other most loyal and courageous comrades in the Political Bureau of the Central Workers ‘and Soldiers’ Council of Germany or of any other similar political organ of this level that is formed, that Comrade Luxemburg be sent to participate.”
“The Rote Fahne” that resulted from the transformation of the infamous court scandal sheet, consisted only of these two issues. The power of the “Spartacists” over it ended quickly. This was an indication that initially in Germany “order” and bourgeois property was to triumph over the proletarian revolution, just as the first proclamation of the Provisional Government of the People’s Representatives solemnly swore it would. During its one-day existence the newspaper had firmly and clearly struck its guiding principles, which were consistently continued in the later “Rote Fahne” issues. It unequivocally aroused the reaction that the “bad example” of the Bolshevik methods and goals were beginning to ruin the “good morals” of the German proletariat.
On Monday, November 18, the “Rote Fahne” appears again (No. 3), and this time as the central organ of the Spartacist League, Editorial board: Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. And now for the first time from a revolutionary newspaper it becomes the leading organ of the revolution, the only organ of the revolution. “The Rote Fahne,” for the proletarian revolution of 1918/1919, had the same overriding historical significance that the “Neue Rheinische Zeitung” under Marx’s editorship had for the bourgeois revolution of 1848. That it had this importance was due to Rosa Luxemburg’s work and merit. Engels had declared: “The editorial staff of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung – that was the dictatorship of Karl Marx.” With the same right we can claim that the management of the “Rote Fahne” was the dictatorship of Rosa Luxemburg. Those who find the word dictatorship harsh as it enters their delicate ears can replace this expression with “authority” or “acknowledged superiority” of the leadership. The “Rote Fahne” was Rosa Luxemburg herself with her clear, well-grounded insight into the course, the laws, the goal of historical development in the conditions of the proletarian revolution; with her iron will she would pull the German revolution forward as far as possible, corresponding to its enormous international significance; with her warm heart, ready for self-sacrifice, that beat with the stormy rhythm of the times.
As valuable as the collaboration of other leading Spartacus League members was – especially that of Karl Liebknecht – without Rosa Luxemburg the “Rote Fahne” would not have been the “Rote Fahne.” She was the living soul of the newspaper, making it the clearest, most decisive and fiery voice of the revolution, the unerring beacon for the forward-driving proletariat. Without regard for her poor health – she had suffered greatly during her years in prison and from the emotional shock of the war years – with contempt for and even abuse of her needs, but with every longing obliterated by the one great wish and desire, she gave herself entirely to this task. With scrupulous conscientiousness, she took care that in each issue the character of the “Rote Fahne,” its opinion of the issues and demands of the day raised by the revolution, would be expressed as clearly and sharply as possible. No news item should appear without its content and form first having been approved and covered by Rosa Luxemburg.
Thanks to her work and leadership the “Rote Fahne” was of one piece. From the first issue that appeared under Rosa’s editorial leadership, until the last one she signed off on the day before her murder on January 14 – the newspaper appeared as a unified whole regarding its fundamental and tactical approach to revolution, without cracks and fissures from contradictions, without spots, confusion and haziness. However unclear and confused the situation was, no matter how violently the storm of the counterrevolution rumbled, the “Rote Fahne” held straight to its course, Rosa Luxemburg at the wheel. Ebert7 and Scheidemann’s8 open betrayal of the revolution revealed itself more and more shamelessly. Under Haase9 and Kautsky’s10 leadership the Independents reeled back and forth between paying lip service to the dictatorship of the proletariat and offering a humble worship of bourgeois democracy, and they turned themselves from shield bearers for Scheidemann’s group into their accomplices. The workers and soldiers’ councils did not know how to use the power that the revolution turned over to them and threw it to the government of People’s Representatives and then to the National Assembly, like savages who do not know what to do with a gun. The broad proletarian masses let it go, let it happen, thus heralding their own immaturity and the immaturity of the revolution itself. Immutable and undiscouraged, “The Rote Fahne” held to its fixed line. This was the political directive that Rosa Luxemburg gave it.
All power to the Councils! No National Assembly! Not bourgeois, but proletarian democracy! Dictatorship of the proletariat! Social revolution! These are the slogans which the “Rote Fahne” carried to the masses of the working people. They showed once more Rosa Luxemburg’s conviction. They are the core and star of the article, that she writes – really only writes? – No, that she experiences deeply and inwardly, so strong and on fire does Rosa Luxemburg’s soul speak to us. She filled each page of the newspaper with content, meaning and character. One might separate some piece of an article out of the “Rote Fahne” under Rosa Luxemburg’s leadership; wherever and whatever you choose, the fragment shows the essence of the whole. The Conference Report from Berlin, the situation reports from all over Germany bring the attitude of the workers and soldiers to the idea of the councils into print. The political overview, social news items, but especially the critical and polemical debates with the two social democratic parties, with the Executive Council11 of the Berlin Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils, with the National Congress of Councils have the following as their goal: To erase every false evaluation of formal bourgeois democracy to the very last remnants from the consciousness of the working class and to mobilize the workers against the convening of a National Assembly and against the government, which handed the power of the young, immature councils bit by bit to the counter-revolution; to mobilize the working class in the struggle for the proletarian dictatorship.
Not always where and not always as strongly as was necessary, did “the mass march of revolutionary worker battalions,” who want to make the councils take power in truth and deed, echo in the streets of German cities and industrial centres. But from the “Rote Fahne” comes constantly the same clarity, determination, passion and determination of the will to reach the goal; it calls the proletarians to such an act. The “Rote Fahne” is thus Rosa Luxemburg’s last and decisive political declaration and testament. Between it and the main experiences and main slogans of the Russian Revolution there exist no contradictions. Not that Rosa Luxemburg would have mechanically transferred “the Bolshevik slogans and methods” to the German situation, as she was criticized for doing by the two social democratic parties that clung tenaciously to the illusion of a peaceful revolution. Rosa Luxemburg rather seized on the living historical meaning of these solutions and methods and applied them creatively and effectively, taking German conditions into account. Taking into account the national and momentary conditions, the differences and the changes in Russia and Germany, she astutely recognized the common international features of the great proletarian revolution here and there. Quite independently, her free, proud spirit had sought the path of revolution. But lo and behold! It led her in Lenin’s footsteps. This is what the “Rote Fahne” proved first from the general content of the paper, then by Rosa Luxemburg’s words themselves.
In one article entitled, “ They even threaten,” the “Rote Fahne” stands against the National Assembly, the German Constituent Assembly,12 with these remarks: “That cute little plan of Haase and Kautsky has already been quashed, sabotaged by the ruling class within the day. As its essential point it was thought that the National Assembly should not be expeditiously convened without further ado, but should be prepared for by a series of strong actions of the Provisional Government. Basically these are their tactics: first a brief dictatorship of the proletariat, then the National Assembly and the majority vote, then the introduction of socialism by an act of Parliament. This confused and ambiguous plan thus also includes the application of the [proletarian] dictatorship.
“Yes, obviously even the Independents feel that the National Assembly without a prior dictatorship in a socialist sense amounts to nothing more than smoothly handing over the revolution to the ruling classes. Therefore they resist so desperately the intention of the Scheidemann group to convene the National Assembly immediately and without further ado.<> “Thus Haase and his comrades also want the dictatorship of the proletariat, thus they also admit that the dictatorship is inevitable if they are not to make a flat-out betrayal of socialism. Only like wise guys, they want to put the cart before the horse. They want at first a dictatorship and a little socialism, and then for the proletariat to lay down its power and hand over the main work of introducing socialism to the parliamentary system.>
“It now appears, however, as might be expected, that even at the first announcement of the most rudimentary measures in the direction of the socialist dictatorship, the threatened bourgeoisie leaps to its feet and carries out the sharpest resistance. The bourgeoisie comes out in the open: National Assembly! The slogan of the National Assembly is such that it had hardly escaped the lips of Haase and Kautsky that it was used as a weapon against their socialist intentions and against themselves.
“The astute guardians of the ruling classes have shown always and in all situations, what the oppressed classes, unfortunately, so often lack: the unerring instinct for their own class interests. If the bourgeoisie demand the National Assembly with such emphasis and storm as their protective wall against socialism, is this not a striking confirmation that the National Assembly as an institution of planned “parliamentary socialization” is a sword made of cardboard?
“The Independent supporters of this solution want to outsmart the bourgeoisie. They want to catch them in the trap of an Act of Parliament and believe that this will be the least painful way to overcome their opposition to socialism. But being too wily in great events has already cost many a head. It is not the bourgeoisie that the National Assembly would catch in its trap, but the proletariat. “
In No. 8, the newspaper wages a polemic against the Independents, who with devout fervour were demanding the National Assembly produce a Constitution. The news item bears the distinctive headline: “The road to nowhere.” The polemic against this party and the struggle against the threat of the National Assembly continues in No. 14 of November 29. The “Rote Fahne” calls for the speedy convocation of the Congress of the Independent Socialist Party and justifies this call, in particular as follows:
“Its true mission as shareholder in the Scheidemann-Ebert company is: to mystify its clear and unambiguous character as a protection force of bourgeois class rule in a system of ambiguities and cowardice.
“This role of Haase and his comrades finds its classic expression in their attitude to the main slogan of the day: the National Assembly.
“There are only two positions possible in this matter, as in all others. Either one wants the National Assembly as a means to cheat the proletariat of its power by paralyzing its class energy and dissolving its ultimate socialist goals in a blue haze. Or one wants to put all the power in the hands of the proletariat, to develop the revolution that had already begun into a powerful class struggle for a socialist society and for that purpose to establish the political rule of the great mass of the working people, the dictatorship of the workers and soldiers’ councils. For or against socialism, against or for the National Assembly, there is no third choice.
“The independent party is also desperately working here to bring together mountain and valley, mix fire and water in the name of “unity.” It wants the National Assembly to be the supreme directing and deciding authority, but it wants to postpone this National Assembly as long as possible and before it is convened to implement policy in its broad guidelines through dictatorial measures of the present government.
“As usual, the entangled centrist position leads to ambiguity, to political dishonesty. Either one truly intends to make the National Assembly the qualified decision-making body that represents the people – in which case it would be inappropriate to confront this highest authority with accomplished facts, as it would then find itself behind the major social upheavals. Or one truly believes in the socialist dictatorship of the proletariat in which case one should not promote it as a stopgap measure in a corner of revolutionary history nor hand over its barely begun efforts to the conclusive judgment of a bourgeois-democratic assembly.
A party that at a historical moment that requires great, clear, bold decisions of world historic importance only promotes ambiguities, fluctuations and half-truths, which wants to pursue foreign policy with the imperialist annexationist David, to direct culture and primary school education with the German national-chauvinist Haenisch,13 and build socialism with Ebert – the executioner of the revolution – a party which through Barth’s14 voice urges the striking masses to desist from struggle and remain in slavish obedience to the whip of the bosses – such a party is judged by its every word and deed. That party is a product of decades of stagnation of the German workers’ movement. What the German proletariat needs at its head today is a socialist party that has grown to occupy the role required at the decisive hour. There is no place in the revolution for a party of indecision and ambiguity.” The article ends with the demand for “the speediest convocation of the Party Congress, which brings clarification and decision.”
At a meeting of the Spartacus League on December 1, Rosa Luxemburg delivered a speech that won the audience’s approval for her point of view, as expressed in the following resolution:
“The People’s Assembly called on December 1 in the Teachers’ Union Building on Alexanderstrasse declares its agreement with the remarks of Comrade Luxemburg. It considers the convening of the National Assembly a step that strengthens the counter-revolution and betrays the proletarian revolution and its socialist goals. It calls for handing over all power to the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils, whose first duty is to drive the traitors to the working class and socialism out of the government: Throw out Scheidemann, Ebert and their comrades; arm the working people to protect the revolution and with all energy take decisive actions to bring about the socialization of society.”
In the “Political Overview” of December 3 the news item “Dictatorship or Democracy?” ironically denounces the snivelling about the “dictatorship of the left” and the insecurity of the leaders of the Independents, who count the buttons of their vest to see if and when a national assembly should be elected. On the following day the news item: “A foretaste ofthe National Assembly' says you can deduce the following conclusion from the bourgeois demonstration in the Busch Circus: “These people know very well why they are pushing for the National Assembly and what is hidden behind the much-vaunted ‘democracy.’ Through the audacity and self-consciousness in the appearance of all of these elements one can measure with mathematical accuracy the weakness of the current government.”
With programmatic focus and determination the political standpoint of the “Rote Fahne” – Rosa Luxemburg’s political position – is expressed in the issues published from December 10 to December 22. These issues deal with the meeting of the Workers and Soldiers’ Councils in Germany, the Congress of Councils: Preparation and agenda; attitude and behaviour of the Executive Council of the Berlin Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils; the Ebert- Haase parties, the relationship of the Congress to the masses of the Berlin proletariat and of these masses to the Congress; its deliberations, decisions, and the end result: in short, its total contents, its meaning and its historical essence. In the caustic criticism as in both the urgent positive demands and withering wrath, as it happens, in the mixture of profound realism and passionate impetuosity the consciousness is attuned to the fact that the Congress is deciding the central problem of the proletarian revolution in Germany. The Congress will decide for or against it, certainly not a final and irrevocable decision, but in the next period and until the proletarian masses themselves – ripe for revolution through their will to seize state power – shall correct its decision.
Council rule or a bourgeois parliamentary state, symbolized and embodied in the National Assembly? Proletarian dictatorship or bourgeois democracy? “Socialization” of the economy or capitalist production for profit? Revolution to overthrow capitalism or reform to preserve and strengthen capitalism? Those were the long-range issues before the Congress. The “Rote Fahne” answered unequivocally, without any evasive “on the one hand” and “on the other hand,” without clauses beginning with “if” and “but.” It answered them in the spirit of the Russian November Revolution,15 the first decision on these questions with world historic significance. Some of the relevant contributions show without ambiguity Rosa Luxemburg’s clear, firm, characteristic handwriting. It is a piece of German revolutionary history, captured in the “Rote Fahne” every day, a piece of the agony of the German revolution, but also an overview showing its road to the future. Whoever wants to “make” history cannot afford to ignore these pages, nor can those who want to write about history. Have the best and most important lessons about the principles and tactical issues of the proletarian revolution on the occasion of the Congress of Councils, really “already” been written three years ago in the “Rote Fahne”? It might be written today, not only because of the freshness of tone and colour, but also because of the relevance of the lessons, their guide to action. What appeared to be within reach in December 1918 has still not been realized. Germany’s proletariat still lets the mill of bourgeois parliamentarism grind on; it still stomps forward on the road of bourgeois democracy, torn apart by its condemnations of terror and its bullets ripping into every revolt against the power of capital. Even its most bitter experience crystallized slowly, desperately slowly, to insight and action.
Rosa Luxemburg had called for the convocation of the Constituent Assembly in September 1918 in Russia, after the victory of the proletariat. However, under her leadership, the “Rote Fahne” fought in December of that same year with tenacious passion to convince the [German] Congress of Councils to most sharply reject the demand for a Constituent Assembly that would write the constitution. From the outset, it must instead establish the sovereignty – born from the will of the proletariat and supported by the will of the proletariat – of the power of the Councils in all areas. There must be no deals, no toying around with the counter-revolutionary slogan “to convene a National Assembly”; no wavering in its resolve to push aside the Provisional Government of the House of People’s Representatives and to concentrate all power in the Councils. Deceptive hopes about the nature and the value of bourgeois democracy, outdated political views and new fears of big decisions and responsibilities all jumble together with parliamentary routine and with blatant privileges to form a trap, in which workers’ power gets more entangled every day. Should the Congress of Councils of December 16 write the Magna Carta of the Rule of the Councils, of the proletarian seizure of power, it would be necessary to undermine the influence of the leadership of the two social democratic parties and overcome uncertainty and indecision within its own ranks, overcoming the betrayal of the councils and their organs, especially within the Executive of the Berlin Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils – which should have led and instead could only stagger, topple over and capitulate.
On December 10 the “Rote Fahne” presented the main ideas of the agenda of the Congress that the Executive Council had set up: Point 2 read: “National Assembly or Councils’ Constitution?” Speaker: Cohen-Reuss, Discussion: Daumig16-Berlin. “The significance of this agenda is twofold: first, the formulation of the central problem of the revolution as an alternative. National Assembly or Council Constitution. Here at least it was openly admitted that the National Assembly is synonymous with the destruction of the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils and their political role.” And day by day the articles follow, with the cold, unrelenting spotlight focusing on and illuminating the situation. It is tempting to reproduce the articles almost completely in order to convey the full sense of what the “Rote Fahne” was at that time, and how it guided the blade of its sword. Each article strikes an unerring blow. Thus in no. 26 of December 11, “To the Executive Council,” in No. 27 of December 12, it scourges the Executive Council with the headline: “ The Executive Council knuckles under,” and it characterizes the Russian Soviets (Councils) as a positive example.
On December 15 the “Rote Fahne” formulated the task of the Congress this way:
“By fulfilling four urgent measures, the Central Council can make up for lost opportunities and assure for itself the place it deserves:
“1. It must eliminate the nest of counter-revolution; it must eliminate the place where all the threads of the counter-revolutionary conspiracy converge, it must eliminate the Ebert-Scheidemann-Haase Cabinet;
“2. It must demand the disarmament of all front-line troops who do not unconditionally recognize the supreme power of the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils’’ and who will otherwise become the personal bodyguard of the Ebert-Haase Cabinet.
“3. It must demand the disarmament of all officers and of the White Guard trained by the Ebert-Haase government and create the Red Guard.
“4. It must reject the National Assembly and identify it as an attack on the revolution and the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils.
By immediately taking these four steps, the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils can still put themselves at the head of the revolution. The proletariat is willing to follow the Councils’ leadership if they show strong leadership against capitalism. The proletariat is willing to give everything to them and to raise them to the highest level with the cry: All power to the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils!”
The article in which this appears, has the characteristic headline: “On the slopes.” The “call” on December 16 for a demonstration to greet the Congress of Councils makes this warning ring with even more force. The protesters should, among other things, raise these demands: All power to the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils. The Executive Council elected by the Central Council of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils is the highest organ of legislative and governmental power. The Eberts-Council of People’s Representatives shall be eliminated. The call reads:
“It is the first time that representatives from all over Germany,
workers and soldiers, organized as a class for their own interests,
have come out on the political scene; for the first time the
proletarians of all of Germany have embodied themselves in this Central
Council; they see themselves united, struggling and fighting.
“And will they see themselves as the victors?
“That is the question that moves us today. The enemy, which the proletariat has to defeat today, is a dangerous enemy. It is not an enemy that declares itself openly, no, it is one that rises from within its own ranks and sows doubt within the ranks of the proletariat. This enemy has carried out an appalling campaign. For weeks it has been busy. It has whispered into the ears of the proletarians in town and country, in work shirts and soldiers’ uniforms, that they are not the ones who are or can be capable of accomplishing the mighty work of human liberation. It has whispered this in a thousand voices, it has painted on the wall the devil of anarchy, it brought in lies from abroad and invented new ones to prove to the proletariat that its organization could not lead to peace; the Ebert-Haase government has done everything it can to take from the proletariat its belief in the power of the Councils and the victory of the revolution....
“But what would all delegates or all councils be without the great mass of the proletariat behind them? A resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. The masses themselves must appear on the scene. Their fate will indeed be forged now. They must unite with the councils, they must show that they want to live and that, with all the wavering and feebleness put aside, they have realized that the struggle is over their destiny.
“Individual human weakness and procrastination cannot destroy the work of the Revolution. The revolution could only be destroyed if the proletariat itself abandons it. If they, the proletarians, have reached the point when they are animated by the desire to win and have decided to take action, then the revolution must be victorious. And thus: proletarians out to the street!”
The proletarians ofBerlin had understood the call. The ‘Rote Fahne’ of December 17 reported with satisfaction that 250,000 protesters filled the streets to show the way with impressive determination to the meeting of the Central Council of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils in Germany. The above demands were backed up by the marching masses. As its convinced spokesperson – for neither the first nor the last time – Paul Levi stepped before the Berlin workers; he spoke to them while standing in a window of the Prussian parliament building. Doesn’t it seem today like a fairy tale, which begins: “Once upon a time”?
The demonstrating masses jubilantly agreed with the revolutionary demands. But the counter-revolution was also at work. This was emphasized in a December 18 article. “The second Menetekel,”17 We read there:
“... In its process of self-clarification, the national conference is under pressure from two antithetical forces. From the top in the Ebert- Scheidemann’s headquarters the concentrated bourgeois counter-revolution is exerting the strongest pressure on the national conference, to demoralize it, to rob it of its self-confidence, to move it to abdicate its role as an organ of the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils by convening instead the National Assembly. That is what the December 6 Putsch was for, and the demonstration at the arrival of the Guard troops, the disarming of the proletariat and the formation of the ‘volunteer militia.’
“At the same time from below the resolute mass of the proletariat, its goal clear, was putting pressure on the national conference to strengthen its revolutionary will, to keep it focused on maintaining a socialist class standpoint and turn it from the chaotic condensation of the November Revolution into a sharpened weapon for the further development of the socialist revolution....”
The Council Congress documented from its earliest meetings on that its majority, and especially the leaders of the two social democratic parties, had neither the ability nor the will to forge the council into a tool of proletarian power. Its ear was sensitive to the needs of the bourgeoisie, to the boasts of the counter-revolution, to the whining and stuttering of the waverers and cowards, to the betrayal of the social climbers and the successful low-level operators within the workers’ movement. It lacked the organ of thought and the spirit of the language of the masses in the streets that is tuned to the revolutionary situation and aware of the duty the masses have imposed on it. Instead of connecting with the masses on an intimate level and drawing its revolutionary life force from them, it shut itself off from them. Without dignity and greatness, in the barren parliamentary shop talk, in feeble, foolish and treacherous decisions it wasted the treasure that the proletarian power had entrusted to it and delivered it instead to the National Assembly, to the bourgeoisie. The reports in the “Rote Fahne” about the Congress, the articles, “Behind Walls,” and “Ebert’s Mamelukes”18 sharply define what is going on. Instead of revolutionary self-awareness, counterrevolutionary self-exposure, instead of strengthening the power of the councils, it encourages the suicide of the councils, instead of struggling against the bourgeoisie, it makes a defenceless capitulation to the bourgeoisie. Despite everything, the newspaper’s voice is clear and unwavering and it speaks with the conviction that the proletarian masses will lead the revolution on to victory. The triumph of the counter-revolution in the Council Congress was: “A Pyrrhic Victory,” as the “Rote Fahne” expressed it in the December 21 issue: “The first meeting of the Council Congress has ended. Looking over its accomplishments as they are presented in the public debates and decisions, they amount to a victory of the Ebert regime, a victory of the counter-revolution all down the line. The revolutionary ‘street’ was locked out, and the political power of the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils nullified, the convening of the National Assembly, which represents the dictatorial power of the December 6th clique – in the present climate what could the bourgeoisie wish for that would be more and better?
‘The dictators didn’t want to know anything about their intended dictatorship,’ triumphantly exclaims the newspaper ‘Freiheit,’19 the sad organ of political ambiguity.
‘For sure, the self-elected body of the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils, instead of seizing political power for itself to promote revolution, which was its mission, cut off its own limbs and handed the power entrusted to itself over to the enemy.
“What is involved here is not just the general inadequacy of the first immature stage of the revolution, but also the special difficulty of this proletarian revolution, expressed in the unique character of its historical situation. In all previous revolutions, the fighters came to the barricades with their faces showing: class against class, programme against programme, shield against shield. In the current revolution, the shock troops of the old order do not enter the fray with the placards and emblems of the ruling classes, they do it instead under the banner of a ‘social democratic party.’ If the cardinal question of the revolution were to be raised openly and honestly: capitalism or socialism, any doubts or wavering among the great mass of the proletariat would be now impossible.
“Each day the situation is sharpened, every day the world-historical predicament is heightened, roughly and unrelenting. The retreating mass of soldiers gradually changes into a mass of workers, as they take off the uniforms of imperialism and put on the clothes of the proletariat. The soldiers are back on their home soil, in which their class consciousness is rooted, and the threads that bound them temporarily to the ruling classes are torn asunder. At the same time they confront the huge and growing problems of unemployment, the economic struggles between capital and labor, and financial bankruptcy of the state. The internal dissolution of the capitalist economy shows its Medusa’s head. Here in the economic contradictions is the hot forge, out of which the new fires of the class struggle will be kindled daily.
“And it is thus a given that the revolutionary tension, that the revolutionary consciousness of the masses grows more acute and sharper every day. The Council Congress, through the rugged, unmediated contradiction in which it was confronted with the situation and mood of the masses, has itself done the best job possible to bring education and clarification. In the few days of its discussions, it has demonstrated to the proletariat and to the masses of soldiers the need to fight to the death against the counter-revolutionary regime as the inevitable question of survival. Only confusion, indecision, only veil and fog are dangerous to the cause of the revolution. Any clarity, any revelation is oil on the fire of the revolution.
“The Congress of Councils has done in the few days such a thorough, complete work, has torn away all the veils from the core of the counter-revolution, that like an exploding mine it must arouse the conscience of the proletarian masses. From this hour forward, now that the council delegates have finished speaking, the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils in Germany and the working masses have the word. They will speak, and they will act. The victory of the Ebert regime – like all the victories of the counterrevolution – will remain a Pyrrhic victory.”
This is one of many examples of the consistency with which the “Rote Fahne,” headed by Rosa Luxemburg, described all emerging controversial issues from the angle of the rule of the Councils. On November 27, she spoke of a “national conference” of representatives of various German
“... What is separatism? Certainly there was separatism even before the Revolution. People railed against the ‘Prussians’ and wished the Berliners to go to hell, but the railing has now changed its historical meaning. The railing against the ‘Prussians’ during the war was the manifestation of resistance of the South German proletariat against the most extreme representatives of aggressive war, the Prussians. – The railing against the ‘Prussians’ now is the manifestation of the fear of the South German bourgeoisie concerning the proletarian revolutionary struggle in North Germany. Separatism in this sense was revolutionary before the [November] revolution, now its social content has become reactionary.
“And this realization leads to different tactics. Only on the basis of the Councils’ Constitution is unity of the country possible. Only the Councils’ Constitution, the developed proletarian struggle, which has progressed furthest in North Germany, will resolve for the South German proletarians and small farmers their entanglement in separatism, in which the bourgeoisie has placed them.”
The “Russian methods” that the “Vorwarts”20 and “Freiheit” newspapers cursed and proscribed in unison obviously had a contagious affect on the editorial board of the “Rote Fahne,” judging from its assessment of the Councils and its rejection of the National Assembly. The paper reported on December 19 without any moral indignation about “Terrorist actions out of Munich.” Red soldiers there had sinned against the sanctity of “democracy” by dispersing a meeting of real live democrats. And still more. Soldiers wearing red emblems entered a bourgeois printing house and confiscated 100,000 leaflets “against Bolshevism.” It was stamping out “freedom of expression,” not to mention assaulting bourgeois “property.” The condemned “Rote Fahne” can only add to that dreadful event this afterword:
“...Thus: The privilege of the ruling class to dissolve meetings of the proletariat by armed gendarmes, the privilege of Ebert and Wels to order protesters shot down, was interfered with by armed soldiers; the soldiers believed that freedom of the press did not include freedom to print slanders and they interrupted the lies of the bourgeois press that had continued for four years. That is what the pack is howling about! Which is greater: their stupidity or their hypocrisy?”
With the worsening of the situation in Berlin it would become even “madder.” Emboldened by the [weakness of the] Congress of Councils, armed and blessed by the Ebert regime, the counter-revolution turns on the soldiers of the Peoples Navy, these brave revolutionary fighters, on the bloody Christmas holiday. The revolutionary instinct of the masses rears its head against the agents of the bourgeoisie. Masses of workers occupy the editorial offices of the “Vorwarts” on December 25. “The revolutionary shop stewards and representatives21 of the large enterprises of Greater Berlin” take a position on the “terrorist” operation and declare themselves against a minority:
“The Assembly of revolutionary shop stewards and representatives of Greater Berlin on December 26, 1918 fully understands the anger of the masses of workers that led to the occupation of the “Vorwarts” enterprise on December 25. The egregious breach of the law, carried out two years ago against the workers of Berlin, will today be perceived as all the more provocative by the revolutionary working class, as the “Vorwarts” most recently in the most shameless way insulted all honest and resolute revolutionary circles, as well as the People’s Navy Division. The revolutionary shop stewards therefore consider the lesson granted to the ‘Vorwarts’ people to be well deserved. But they do not consider the action against the “Vorwarts” an opportunity to take up the comprehensive final battle against the open and covert counter-revolution.
“The Assembly of revolutionary shop stewards therefore recommends the ending of the occupation of the ‘Vorwarts’ building. It commits itself to use all its powers to push forward the revolutionary development and the struggle for socialism to the end. Included in this fight, of course, is the struggle against the Ebert regime and their lackeys in ‘Vorwarts.’ The Assembly of revolutionary delegates recognizes the right of the Berlin workers to the ‘Vorwarts.’ It believes that the matter ofthe ‘Vorwarts’ in this revolutionary era must be immediately resolved by the Executive Council of the Greater Berlin working class.”
The “Rote Fahne” published this resolution in its No. 41 on December 27 and also published the other decisions of the revolutionary shop stewards. Namely, to insist that the editors of the “Vorwarts” print the declaration at the top of their front page, without comment; otherwise the workers would continue the occupation. Thus coercion, terrorism from the left. The “Rote Fahne” writes about this: “This was a completely spontaneous mass action and therein lies its great political importance. The masses have once again proved that they have that unerring revolutionary instinct, which is the living source of the revolution’s momentum that renews itself again and again. The reconquest of the ‘Vorwarts,’ which had been stolen from the Berlin socialist proletariat under the protection of Kessel’s [military] sabre dictatorship by a despicable act of violence, represented an outstanding debt owed to the Revolution, which should have already been taken back on November 9. To leave the rightful property of the Berlin workers any longer in the hands of the Ebert-clique, which will use it as the meanest reptile in order to inject poison into the revolutionary proletariat, is untenable. It is only a matter of time before this mockery of the basic rights and interests of the revolution must come to an end. If today some doubts among the revolutionary shop stewards and representatives still keep them from rallying in close support of the masses, who on their own initiative want to redeem those irrefutable debts to the revolution, and if these doubts cause the ‘Vorwarts’ to be returned to the counter-revolution, nevertheless this question, which has now been put on the agenda in such a determined manner, will not disappear. For our part, we will continue to support the mass of the Berlin workers in their intended aim with all the strength at our disposition, and we do not doubt that the courage, determination and initiative that they demonstrated on that day will soon lead them to their goal.”
The inevitability that the proletarian struggle will turn against the blessings of “democracy” is demonstrated in this article: “How they perceive freedom of the press.” “The Ebert crony August Muller, sustainer and director of the Economics Office, explains that he can supply no additional paper to the ‘Rote Fahne’ other than what it has at the moment. We want to show the gentlemen and the Berlin proletariat what freedom of the press means in Germany. Last Sunday there appeared: the ‘Vorwarts’ with 16 pages, the ‘Deutsche Zeitung’ 16 pages, the ‘Berliner Tageblatt’ 20 pages, the ‘Vossische Zeitung’ 24 pages. On Wednesday of this week the same newspapers appeared in the same size again, that is, a total of 76 pages. If we add to this all the rest of the Berlin press, such as ‘Tagliche Rundschau,’ ‘Kreuzzeitung,’ ‘Morgenpost,’ ‘Volkszeitung,’ ‘Germania,’ ‘Freisinnige Zeitung,’ ‘Lokalanzeiger,’ ‘Tag,’ and whatever the rest are called, that means that the bourgeois press appeared with at least 300 pages. In contrast, the ‘Rote Fahne’ appears with 4 (four) pages! It could not get more paper!
“Is not it time for the Berlin proletariat to teach Dr. Muller a lesson to remind him that out in the world besides the profit interests of the Mosses, Scherls, Ullsteins and the fraudulent interests of the ‘Vorwarts’ there are also proletarian interests?”
Almost without realizing that there was a short breathing spell, in the beginning of January 1919 the revolution and counterrevolution again clash violently with each other and wrestle hand to hand. With the zeal of well-trained, dutiful servants of a good bourgeois establishment, the reigning
Scheidemann cronies continue their work of disarming the proletariat and arming the bourgeoisie. They deliver into bourgeois hands another major power position. The Independent Eichhorn is deposed as chief of police. At the same time, the government orders a strong counter-revolutionary troop contingent deployed around Berlin and prepares an invasion by General Lequis and the imposition of martial law. The workers cannot take this brazen slap in the face without reacting. The pavement resounds with the steps of hundreds of thousands who demonstrate, including many tens of thousands who want to fight. The burning breath of revolution wafts through the streets. “Eichhorn stays” – this authoritative slogan rings in the ears of the regime. Workers and soldiers have seized the police headquarters, and occupied “Vorwarts” again, without any respect for the “freedom of opinion” of its editors and the swindled legal title of its owners:
“The working masses have again occupied ‘Vorwarts.’ The brutal provocations of the Ebert-Reptile in recent days have put the patience and kindness of the Greater Berlin workers through severe tests. To leave such a dangerous weapon in the hands of the enemies of the Revolution any longer would indeed amount to a betrayal of the most vital interests of the revolution. Taking back the ‘Vorwarts,’ the stolen lawful property of the Berlin workers, is an obvious act of revolutionary self-defence. Hopefully the workers won’t let it slip away again this time!
“The workers and soldiers have also occupied other bourgeois newspapers. They may continue to appear, but under the control of the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Council, which is thus only exercising its duty as an organ of the threatened revolution.”
Occupation of the police headquarters and occupation of the “Vorwarts” building was the beginning of the revolutionary January fighting that devoured Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. “Karl and Rosa have fulfilled their ultimate revolutionary duty,” Leo Jogiches wrote to Lenin, when the bloody murders of the two great leaders were no longer in any doubt. In his terse message he gave the most moving and most glorious tribute to them.
Paul Levi’s22 publication [in 1922] has given Arthur Crispien23 grounds for the contention that Rosa Luxemburg rejected the January uprising. This is untrue. What Rosa rejected was not the revolutionary struggle of the Berlin proletariat, but the wrong target, the incorrectly chosen object of the struggle: the overthrow of the Ebert-Scheidemann regime. It is clearly documented that it was the left wing of the Independent Social Democracy, the revolutionary shop stewards of Berlin’s large enterprises, who set this goal for the struggle under Georg Ledebour’s24 leadership. The fact stands in an interesting and instructive parallel to the March Action of 1921, concerning the political attitude of a significant portion of the driving forces, such as the choice of a goal for the struggle that could not be the starting point for a mass action.
Rosa Luxemburg saw the events – as significant and hopeful as they were – not from the perspective of the Berlin City Hall tower. She grasped them in their relation to the given situation and in particular the level of political development of the broadest sections of the population in all of Germany. Accordingly, the overthrow of the Ebert government could at first be only a propagandistic slogan of the revolutionary proletarians, not the tangible object of revolutionary struggles. Under the given circumstances in the main limited to Berlin, in the best case this would lead to a Berlin “Commune,” and on top of that probably on a small historical scale. The struggle’s objective could only be a powerful defence against a counterrevolutionary blow. Thus: Reinstatement of Eichhorn to his post, the removal of the troops – whose job it would be to carry out a bloody crushing of Berlin’s revolutionary proletariat – the arming of the workers and the transfer of the military chain of command to the revolutionary political representatives of the proletariat. To pursue these demands, deeds were needed; they couldn’t be won by striking any deals.
Under these conditions the young Communist Party led by Rosa Luxemburg faced a difficult, conflict-ridden task. It could not make the goal of the mass action – overthrow of the government – its own; it had to reject it. But at the same time it could not separate itself from the masses who had taken up the struggle. Despite these contradictions it had to stay with the masses, and remain among the masses in order to strengthen them in their struggle with the counter-revolution and promote the process of their revolutionary maturing during the action, while bringing to their consciousness the prerequisites for their advance. To this end, the Communist Party had to show its own face, to work out a sharply defined evaluation of the situation, without violating the revolutionary proletarian solidarity that it owed to the combatants. Its participation in the struggle had to be both negative-critical and positive-advancing at the same time. Leo Jogiches justified this view of the January fighting in Berlin thoroughly and convincingly in a lengthy letter to me. It is the basis of the description of the Berlin January uprising that Caius set down in his very booklet that is very worth reading. Supported by facts, the pamphlet throws a bright light on the situation, and in particular on the complicated, great internal and external difficulties, among which Rosa Luxemburg’s conception had to prevail. Thus, this booklet is an important contribution to the history of the revolutionary struggles of the Berlin proletariat in January, as well as to the history of our Party.
The “Rote Fahne” is itself in those memorable days a singular document showing Rosa Luxemburg’s attitude to the January uprising, her superiority as a leader, her expertise in turning theory into practice and historical insight into revolutionary struggle. The combatants do not experience the “Rote Fahne” as a nagging schoolmaster on their backs, draining their energy and their joy in struggle. Rather it directs their attention, their will again and again to fight for the limited concrete goal: disarm the counter-revolution, arm the workers. It does not use any propagandistic slogan; it leaves no phenomenon unnoticed, from which strength would be gained in action. In the same issue in which the “Rote Fahne” reports the occupation of the “Vorwarts,” it urges the masses to take up the urgent need to act to avert the impending horrors of unemployment. The article thus rings out: “Jobs! Socialization! All power to the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils! This three-sided formula of the revolution is now the cry of the starving masses, the practical solution of the hour.” Again and again, it demands the speedy new election of the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils.
All individual claims and individual considerations are drowned out by the need of the hour: “Deeds, deeds, not deals.” As an indication of the significance of the events, as a warning against the unsafe back and forth movement between fight and surrender by the Independent leaders, faced with the naked betrayal of Scheidemanns and his supporters, with the failure of the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils, and acting as a wake-up call of the highest impulse to struggle; as an expression of the conviction that the revolution must be the work of the masses themselves, as a reaffirmation of the confidence in the revolutionary self-awareness of the workers. “Deeds, deeds, not deals,” that is the tireless battle cry of the “Rote Fahne” against the counter-revolution dripping with the workers’ blood, it is the “Carthage must be destroyed” of the Roman senator.
On January 7 the lead article of the “Rote Fahne” raises the question: “What are the leaders doing?” After a look back at the overwhelming mass demonstration in the Siegesallee on the previous day it says: “Yes, it is a revolution, with all its externally chaotic movements, with its alternating ebb and flow, with momentary rushes toward seizing power and equally momentary retreats of the revolutionary waves. And through all these apparent zigzag movements, the revolution moves step by step toward victory, pushing inexorably forward. Through their struggle the masses must themselves learn to fight, learn to act. And you can feel today that the working class of Berlin has learned to act to the highest degree; it thirsts for resolute action, for clear situations, for sweeping measures. It is not the same as it was on November 9; it knows what it wants and what it should do.
“But are its leaders, the executive organs of its will, up to the task? Have the revolutionary shop stewards and representatives of the large enterprises, have the radical elements of the U.S.P. in the meantime increased their energy and determination? Has their capacity for action kept pace with the growing energy of the masses? We are afraid we cannot answer that question with a flat-out yes. We are afraid that the leaders are still the same as they were on November 9; they have learned little since then.... It may well be that the representatives of the working class deliberate thoroughly and extensively. Now, however, is the time for action.... Deeds! Deeds! To be courageous, determined, consistent – that is the damned duty of the revolutionary shop stewards and the sincere socialist party leaders. Disarm the counter-revolution, arm the masses, occupy all positions of power. Act fast! The revolution demands it. Its hours count for months in world history, and its days for years. Let the organs of revolution be conscious of their high responsibilities! The call for a new demonstration is confronted with the fact that “Haase and his associates mediate” and do not know how to lead the advancing masses. Some 700,000 proletarians eager for action and bursting with revolutionary energy are wandering the streets of Berlin without direction, and the revolutionary headquarters – deliberate on a “settlement” with Ebert and Scheidemann.”
The article “Failure of duty” in a special edition of the “Rote Fahne” of January 8 raises the same accusation and ends with the same reminder. It was not enough to call out the masses; what was needed was to keep their revolutionary energy alive and ready to act. It was not enough to wrest power positions from the counter-revolution; they had to be put fully at the service of the revolution. That did not happen, neither with the Wolff Telegraph Bureau25 nor with the “Vorwarts.” The leading corporations had “to provide editorial leadership in the spirit of the revolutionary workers of Berlin. Where have the editors gone? What did Daumig and Ledebour do – reputable career journalists and editors, who now as the left wing of the U.S.P. have no political organ -, why did they leave the masses in the lurch? Was it perhaps a more pressing business to ‘deliberate’ instead of act?... The masses must not simply be called out; they must also be politically active. They must above all be called upon to decide on what is to be done and left undone... The experience of the last three days calls to the leading bodies in a loud voice: Don’t talk! Stop these endless deliberations! No deals! Deeds!”
“The lessons of the crisis” are drawn on January 9 in the following sentences: “The mass of Berlin workers has no hard-hitting organizational centre ready for action that understands how to utilize and direct the aroused energy of the masses. The revolutionary shop stewards, the Central Committee of the U.S.P. of Greater Berlin, have not proven to be such a centre.... Where then is the workers’ council, the working masses’ appointed revolutionary organ? The workers’ council does not exist, does not meet, it leads a shadowy existence. Or maybe it comes on stage in the form of the Executive Council... to betray the cause of the revolution right in the midst of the revolutionary crisis.... It is essential today to newly elect the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils, to vote new members into the Executive Council under the slogan: Out with Ebert and his followers! It is essential today to express the experiences of the past eight weeks in the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils, to elect those Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils whose goals are consistent with the views, objectives and aspirations of the masses. In a word, it is essential above all to eliminate the Ebert-Scheidemann group from the fundamental basis of the revolution, the Workers and Soldiers’ Councils. Then and only then will the Berlin masses and the masses in the whole country have in the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils the revolutionary organs that will provide real leaders, real centres of action, struggles and victories in all decisive moments.”
The same warning would be emphasized after the declaration of a general strike on January 10 in the article: “The death agony of Ebert- Scheidemann.”
“The Workers’ Councils since the November 9 days have not become organs of power. They have led the wretched life of plants that do not come to light. Within the factories they had to give way to the omnipotence of the trade union bureaucracy and in political life they had to give way to the State Council’s democracy: They would soon find a less than honourable burial under the dunghill of the National Assembly. Now they must become the first arena of victory of the true proletarian revolution. The cry: Down with Ebert and Scheidemann, which has become the battle cry of the militant proletariat, must find its first implementation in the Workers’ Councils. Get all the Ebert people out of the Workers’ Councils. No conscious or unconscious servant of capital dare sit in the Workers’ Councils! The Workers’ Councils for labour and not capital: that is the watchword.”
On the following day, “ The failure of the leaders” during the struggle would be once again denounced. The behaviour of the leading Independents receives particularly sharp criticism, which is summarized in these phrases: “The U.S.P. once more proved to be the redeeming angel of the counter-revolution. Haase and Dittmann have resigned from the government, but they follow the same policy in the streets of being the fig leaf of the Scheidemann group. And the left of the U.S.P. supports and joins in this policy! The conditions for the recently approved negotiations with the government, which were adopted by the revolutionary shop stewards, were formulated by Ledebour. As the price for the surrender of the workers, they demand, among other things, the resignation of Ebert, Scheidemann, Noske26 and Landsberg from the government. As if what was involved was individual personalities, not specific policies! As if it were not tantamount to creating complete confusion and misleading the masses by removing the typical and well-established representatives of the infamous Scheidemann policy from the front stage and replacing them with some colourless functionaries, who will remain as front men for the same policy, while the Ebert-Scheidemann group will pull the strings from behind the scenes, thus trying to escape the judgment of the masses!
“One way or another all of the politics of negotiations that the U.S.P. initiated and the revolutionary shop stewards collaborated with amounts to a headlong rush toward capitulation of the revolutionary working class, toward covering up the inner conflicts and contradictions. They want to scale back the situation that has matured during the last eight weeks and the political harmony of the masses to the policy of November 9.... Clarity, the sharpest, ruthless struggle against all attempts at cover-up, brokering and stagnation, concentration of the revolutionary energy of the masses and creation of the appropriate institutions for their leadership in the struggle: these are the most urgent tasks of the next period; these are the most important lessons from the last five days of the masses’ stormiest offensives and the leaders’ pitiful failure.” In the same issue the article “Swamp Gas” ends the same way. “So it is indeed. They have remained the same from the first day of their existence, the Haase followers. They learned nothing during the war; they learned nothing from the Revolution! Their horror at the revolution determined their reactions from beginning to end. Now, startled by the insistence of the masses, they led with unfailing certainty back into the swamp of compromise, of false peace, of confusion. The liberation of the masses from the leadership of the U.S.P., the disposal of this corpse: this task is from now on the indispensable prerequisite for the ability of the proletariat to take revolutionary action, that is the next stage of the struggle.” The counter-revolution, which had in Ebert and Scheidemann its Thiers, in Noske its Gallifet,27 has used every day of the “negotiations” to massively arm itself. They and their accomplices grow progressively more impudent and unscrupulous. They take terrible, inhuman revenge for having trembled before the revolutionary masses. However, through the heavy bitterness and the spilled blood of the day, the “Rote Fahne” sees the transitory character of the counter-revolutionary victory and the provisional character of any solution to the crisis. There is nothing but a “house of cards” that the counter-revolutionaries and their Independent shield-holders built on the ruins of the revolutionary battlefield. “The entire political sense and historical content of the crisis this past week lies precisely in the fact that its inner strength and logical development drives the revolution forward toward a serious push at the conquest of power by the proletariat and the realization of socialism, while it is now hemmed in at every turn in the road. It may be that these enemy forces gain the upper hand for the moment by brute force; but to hold back the further course of development, the drive to
sustain the victory of the revolution, they are completely powerless. Even if the naked power of the machine-gun or the ambiguity of the U.S.P.’s concealment plans gain the upper hand – after a short time, the elemental forces of the revolution – the economic struggles – will cross out all these calculations. The revolution will again and again put the basic problem on the agenda: the general showdown between labour and capital. And this showdown is a world-historical conflict between two mortal enemies, which can be fought out only by a long power struggle, face to face, hand to hand. Hardly will the debris and the corpses of this latest episode be carried away than the revolution steps in to do its tireless daily work.”
On the following day, January 14, the “Rote Fahne” brought out Rosa Luxemburg’s monumental article: “Order reigns in Berlin.” Her last work. This special occasion was not required to secure its place of importance. Its worth speaks for itself. This article illuminates the breadth of Rosa Luxemburg’s knowledge and being, it sparkles with her talent. It is as much the expression of her clear, deep historical mind as of her rock-solid, passionate commitment to the revolution. It stays far away from any attempt to whitewash, reduce or cover up the defeat and yet is a “song of victory, song of triumph, a song of the future’s great day.” The article was meant to introduce Rosa’s critical analysis of the January uprising, a critique that she intended to be the starting point for new preparations, for further struggles for the revolution.
Perhaps the above excerpts of the “Rote Fahne” would not satisfy some people as evidence of Rosa Luxemburg’s attitude to the Berlin January uprising, and beyond to the proletarian revolution itself. Those people may search then through the organ of the Spartacus League from A to Z in the weeks when it was led by Rosa Luxemburg. Their overall impression will be unable to escape the sharply defined, uniform, revolutionary physiognomy of the newspaper, which I tried to present here in detail. This physiognomy disproves line by line the old wives’ tale that Arthur Crispien told in “Freiheit.” He did this obviously out of a desire to prove that, as a former party pupil, and in spite of his eternal fear and trepidation that left him in suspended agony between revolutionary programmatic points and unadulterated opportunistic phraseology, he had not strayed too far from his great teacher. Even more comforting: that the latter, to paraphrase Paul Levi, had been on the way to developing herself to the height of “genuine Marxist conviction” of the Hilferding variety.
The attitude of the “Rote Fahne” during the Berlin January struggles ruthlessly shreds much worse arguments: Paul Levi’s myth of Rosa Luxemburg’s fundamental opposition to the Bolshevik conception and tactics of proletarian revolution. Certainly! The “Rote Fahne” of those days contains no treatises comparing bourgeois and proletarian democracy, about proletarian dictatorship and terror, about rule by councils and parliaments. It barely mentions the National Assembly, and just fleetingly on the eve of its election. It does not discuss “the lessons and experiences of the Russian Revolution.” Theory was, for the moment, overtaken by practice, debate overtaken by the struggle. It was not only the “lessons” of the proletarian revolution in Russia that confronted Rosa Luxemburg, but even more so the proletarian revolution in Germany itself. It raised as an imperative its right to life; it ordered: Deeds, deeds!
The fight against the deceptive theory of all-liberating “democracy” had been transformed from an abstraction – from an academic matter for the leaders – into the struggle of the proletarian vanguard with the very real political and military power of “democracy,” that is, of the bourgeoisie, masked and hidden by the Ebert-Scheidemann camp, which in turn received cover and shielding from the Kautsky-Haase camp. The issue of the dictatorship of the proletariat would be answered by the forced battle against the dictatorship of the propertied classes. The reasoned rejection of the National Assembly was continued by the struggle in the streets with massive demonstrations, strikes, bullets, under the slogans: Down with Ebert and Scheidemann, down with the government! Was it about the truly insignificant individuals in government office? Not at all, but it was about their genuine bourgeois counter-revolutionary politics. Only because they act as the Thiers and Gallifet of the German bourgeoisie, as its servants, have these members of the government gained a historical significance that goes beyond the scope of social democratic evenings to make contributions, party conferences, battles for seats in parliament and party archives.
Indeed! In the struggle of the revolutionary vanguard of the German proletariat against the Ebert government the fundamental and tactical problems that the Russian Revolution had raised came alive. How could it be otherwise, once history had placed the proletarian revolution itself on its agenda! The policy of the Ebert government, of the Majority Social Democrats, was the consistently embodied response to these disputes in practice. It was the same regarding the policy of the leading Independents, but with variations and without consequence, partly conscious, partly unconscious. The “rude” policies of the Bolsheviks answered the pressing problems to be resolved from the proletarian, from the revolutionary point of view. The “soulful” policy of Germany’s “true Marxists” did the same but from the bourgeois, from the counter-revolutionary side. They led, therefore, not only with each opportunity to solemn abjuration of Bolshevik tactics and methods, but inevitably to the denial and abandonment of the proletarian revolution itself.
When in the struggle against this policy the basic problem of the proletarian revolution rose up ever more powerfully, then despite “the German soul,” “Bolshevik ideas and methods” appeared. Not in adoring uncritical imitation of the “Russian role model,” but in order to put into effect the basic conditions of the proletarian revolution. It also is not, as the enemies of the revolution curse and its lukewarm friends moan, by making a “mechanical transfer” to “such a very different situation in Germany”; no, it is done while adjusting to the historically given conditions of the revolution in Germany. From this self-evident fact, another one follows.
The debate over the controversial fundamental and tactical issues was and is in Germany only in its beginnings. It corresponds to the degree of development of the German revolution. It is not therefore the gigantic, thoroughgoing and sharply intensified one of “Bolshevism.” It will only reach that level in its further stage of development, namely at the boiling point of the historical situation, immediately prior to the conquest of political power by the proletariat, and after the conquest, when the victory of the proletariat begins to express itself through its dictatorship. In this sense, “Bolshevik tactics and methods” do not belong, as they do according to the well-known superior insight of social democratic and trade union leaders, to the “easily and quickly overtaken past” of the proletarian revolution in Germany, but to its approaching future. Nevertheless, the contentious issues in the first revolutionary struggles of the German proletariat came into play in such a tangible and pervasive way that Rosa Luxemburg’s attitude toward them in the “Rote Fahne,” in her overall political activity could in no way be uncertain, wavering or doubtful. The passionate, revolutionary fighter, who always remained the thinker thirsty for clarity, had to master them mentally. She was driven to this by the practice of the German revolution and not, like Karl Kautsky, by the need to check out, in his role as schoolmaster in world history, whether the theory and practice of “Tatar socialism” coincides with the finished, well-seasoned revolutionary recipes on his writing desk. The incarnations of “German socialism” in the “Vorwarts” and the “Freiheit” correctly concluded from the blows that Rosa Luxemburg directed at them what her fundamental and tactical conception of the problems of the revolution was. Even as the assassins had destroyed the body of the great communist leader, they imagined they should stone her spirit in front of the masses, as they declared the “strong Bolshevik contamination” of the dead leader.
Paul Levi was part of the editorial staff of the “Rote Fahne.” He was one of their most valued colleagues. In the political physiognomy of the “Rote Fahne” with its indelible “Bolshevik” family resemblance it is also undeniable that his own personal view of fundamental and tactical issues of the proletarian revolution would be expressed. Here is some evidence. The headline of the “Rote Fahne” of November 23: “Here Scheidemann – here the proletariat points, in massive polemic, to the contradiction between the working masses and the Majority Social-Democratic leaders. It includes these sentences:
“For all of them the twilight of the gods approaches. They felt it, and hand in hand with their comrades-in-arms of four years, Erzberger28 and company, they look to change destiny through the National Assembly. ‘The men of the government’ – says the ‘Vorwarts’ – ‘cannot let go of this plan, because it corresponds to the social democratic programme.’ We do not know where in the social democratic programme there is something about a National Assembly, but when the Scheidemanns and their journalistic satellites swear on the social democratic programme, it is the same as if a streetwalker swears to her innocence. It also states in the social democratic programme that one should grant no military credits and that one should not enter into any government together with bourgeois forces. The social- democratic programme is in tatters, even more gruesomely shredded than the famous ‘scrap of paper,’ the Belgian neutrality treaty.”
The article is signed: Paul Levi.
On 6 December, we read in the article “ The New March” from Paul Levi’s pen:
“... How did this change come about? The convening of the National Assembly has reassured all the gentlemen of the bourgeoisie about their future and that the great stock market of parliamentary seats can begin again.
“But if we compare the position of the parties now with their positions immediately before the revolution, then something reveals itself. The social democracy of Mr. Scheidemann and Mr. Ebert is in itself no more in that bloc. The large ‘German Democratic Party,’ which includes everything with which Mr. Scheidemann and Mr. Ebert persevered for four years through thick and thin, in which Hausman and Payer, Stresemann and Friedberg29 sit, has constituted itself, temporarily without the government socialist accessories.
“This of course does not mean that these accessories have ceased to be part of the political constitution of the bourgeoisie. The Ebert- Scheidemann group during the war became the ever more powerful and important leading champions of the capitalist war policy. Without their active participation, German capitalism and imperialism long ago would have faced bankruptcy – even though one not as big as the present one. They were the influential promoters and protectors of pro-war sentiment, they were the ones whose rich phraseology magically disguised policies promoting capitalist interests as ‘defence of national assets’ and tried to make the proletariat believe it was in its interests to be involved in imperialist exploitation and cash boxes.
“And now today. Like those 300 Lacedaemonians, who stood at the narrow pass of Thermopylae and blocked the way of the invading Persian hordes, while at their backs the hordes of Greeks armed themselves, lined up and prepared for the fight, so today the Scheidemann-Ebert gang is standing. They stand in the ‘socialist’ people’s government and battle against the proletarian onslaught. The embryonic council organization that is forming is reduced to objective powerlessness by being restricted to pure control activities; the socialist organization of industry, begun by the election of workers’ councils, is strangled through the award of government omnipotence to the unions and the ‘socialization commission.’ The living will of the working class to struggle for its economic power is answered by the requirement that human beings should work six days. The deceptive lure of the National Assembly is placed in front of the proletariat’s desire for political power.”
Paul Levi is neither a political sleepwalker nor one whose left hand does not know what his right hand is doing. He wrote and acted in full awareness of his “Bolshevik” attitude to the problems of the proletarian revolution. He was aware of the fundamental and tactical position of the “Rote Fahne” under Rosa Luxemburg’s leadership, precisely due to her leadership. He could not doubt that this attitude had required a revision of Rosa Luxemburg’s earlier conception of the problem that had been sharply chiseled out by the Bolshevik policy in Russia. Or would you seriously believe that the Rosa who fought with passion against the emergence of the National Assembly in Germany would get enthusiastic about a Constituent Assembly in Russia? That here she would use all her power to hasten the hour of the proletarian dictatorship, but in Soviet Russia she expected the salvation of “democracy”? That she sought council rule for Germany but there she sought the parliamentary system? That she mustered the full weight of her knowledge and talent to bring down the politics of Ebert, Scheidemann and Haase, but considered a repentant return to Kerensky’s policies in Russia as a “goal devoutly to be desired.”? Only fools could associate such a dichotomy of thought , with Rosa Luxemburg of all people, who, when confronted with the multi-faceted and much intermingled historical conditions of the proletarian struggle for emancipation in each country, always sought the broad, unified, international unifying guidelines. Also: Karl Liebknecht’s name – a historic symbol – would not have stood next to Rosa Luxemburg’s at the head of the “Rote Fahne” for even 24 hours had it not been agreement between the two outstanding fighters in the presentation of the basic international questions of the proletarian revolution. This framework of agreement was – notwithstanding differing nuances in detail – the foundation of the solid, loyal personal friendship and revolutionary comradeship in arms that bound together Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht until their tragic death. And Karl Liebknecht’s position of support for the Russian Revolution is well known.
But what about “terror,” the Bolshevik “terror” of the proletarian revolution in Soviet Russia! With grand gestures it is assured that Rosa Luxemburg rejected terror “in principle” to the very end. There are two authentic expressions of her opinion about terror. One was in the “Rote
Fahne” of November 24, 1918, in the article “A dangerous game” The article is obviously not an exhaustive treatise on the historical role of terror in revolutions. It is a brilliant sword’s thrust written from the situation and for the situation. But it was guided by the spirit of Rosa Luxemburg’s in-depth historical understanding and sought out from the situation of the day some general, basic lessons. The article reveals that the counter-revolution behind their cries and rumours of impending coups by the revolutionaries was preparing to wield terror against the forward-driving proletariat. It points out that the proletariat does not need to use terror the way the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie did in order to liberate themselves from historical illusions or in a desire to rescue historically untenable positions. It culminates in the view that the terror of the counter-revolution will be answered by the terror of the masses. The readers can themselves judge according to the central points made in the article: “From the ‘Kreuzzeitung’30 to the ‘Vorwarts’ the German press echoes invective against ‘terror,’ putschism,’ anarchy,’ ‘dictatorship.’ Quis tulerit Gracchos de seditione querentes? [Who could bear the Gracchi complaining about a revolt?]. Who wouldn’t be aroused when the capital’s guardians of bourgeois anarchy, those who within four years have turned Europe into a pile of rubble, scream about ‘anarchy’ of the proletarian dictatorship?
“The propertied classes, who in thousands of years of history never shrank from any act of violence and meanness to protect the ‘palladium of order’ – private property and class rule – when confronted with the slightest rebellion of their slaves, always wail and moan about violence and terror – of the slaves. The Thiers and Cavaignac,31 who in the June butchery of 1848 slaughtered tens of thousands of the Parisian proletarians – men, women and children – filled the world with howls about the alleged ‘atrocities’ of the Paris Commune.
“The Reventlow, Friedberg, Erzberger, who without batting an eye drove one and a half million German men and youths to be slaughtered – at Longwy and Briey – for the sake of new colonies, Scheidemann-Ebert, who for four years authorized all means to carry out the greatest bloodletting that humanity experienced – they cry now in a raucous chorus about the ‘terror,’ of the alleged ‘reign of terror’ that is threatened by the dictatorship of the proletariat! The gentlemen should flip through the pages of their own history...
“Terror and Reign of Terror in the bourgeois revolutions were a means to destroy historical illusions or to defend hopeless interests against the tide of history.
“Thanks to the theory of scientific socialism, the socialist proletariat steps up in its revolution without any illusions, with a completed insight into the final consequences of its historic mission, in irreconcilable contradiction and deadly enmity to the entire bourgeois society. It joins the revolution, not to chase utopian fantasies against the tide of history, but supported by the cast-iron engine of development to accomplish what is the need of the moment in history: making socialism a reality. As a mass, as the huge majority the workers, the socialist proletariat is bound to fulfill its historical mission.
“It is therefore not necessary for them to first destroy their own illusions through bloody acts of violence, to first dig an abyss between themselves and bourgeois society. What is needed is the whole political power of the state and the use of that power to carry out the ruthless abolition of capitalist private property, of wage slavery, of bourgeois class rule, to build a new socialist society.
“But there are others today who urgently need terror, a reign of violence and anarchy: these are the gentlemen of the bourgeoisie, all the parasites of the capitalist economy, who are quaking in their boots for their possessions, their privileges, their profits and prerogative to rule. These are the ones who are trying to place the responsibility for anarchy and for coups on the socialist proletariat in order to be able to carry out actual coups, to unleash real anarchy at an opportune moment with the help of their agents, in order to strangle the proletarian revolution, to sink the socialist dictatorship into chaos and to erect on its ruins a class dictatorship of capital forever.
“The brain and heart of today’s smear campaign against the revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat is formed by capital and its struggle for survival. Its hand and tool is the subservient social democracy. The relationship of servitude has survived the [November] revolution; the government as well as its servants have only pinned red badges on their clothes
“We are watching the spectacle from the historical perspective, with a cold-blooded smile. We understand the play, the actors, the director and the roles.
“But what should one think about, what should the masses of revolutionary proletarians do, if the slanders achieved their purpose, if even one hair on the head should be hurt of those they have taken from the prison and recognized as their appointed leaders? Who then would have the power to preach to these masses a cool-headed attitude? ...
“You bourgeois gentlemen and you servants of moribund capital of ‘Vorwarts,’ you speculate as bankrupt gamblers do on the last card: on the ignorance, on the political inexperience of the masses. You long for the moment, you long for the laurels of Thiers, Cavaignac and Gallifet. It is a dangerous game. The moment belongs to the dictatorship of the proletariat, to socialism. Whoever stands against the bulldozer of the socialist revolution will lie on the ground with shattered limbs.”
Rosa Luxemburg’s second statement regarding terror, which the “anti-terrorists” of the workers’ movement rely on, is included in the “Spartacus Programme.” The section in question is initiated by these remarks: “During the bourgeois revolutions bloodshed, terror and political assassination were indispensable weapons in the hands of the rising classes.
“The proletarian revolution requires no terror for its goals; it hates and abhors killing. It does not need these weapons, because it is combating not individuals but institutions, because it does not enter the arena with naive illusions whose disappointment must be avenged in blood. It is not a desperate attempt by a minority to mould the world forcibly according to its ideal, but the action of the great massive millions of the people, destined to fulfill a historic mission and to transform historical necessity into reality. “It has been rumoured that the first two sentences were “coined specifically against the Bolsheviks,” and were the beginning of a fundamental dispute by Rosa Luxemburg with Bolshevik theory and practice, of their fundamental condemnation. The old opposition to the “party of Lenin” – which had found its expression in the article of the “Neue Zeit”32 of 1904 – had allegedly continued unabated or even sharply exacerbated. Just as old fortune-tellers read the future from tea leaves, so these oracle-like rumours arise from the backstairs muttering about occasional angry expressions of opinion on the part of Rosa Luxemburg, which are bound to happen from time to time whenever temperamental people are involved. Only a complete lack of theoretical sense would allow anyone to fabricate a fundamental historical theory from such expressions of opinion. Besides, nothing was further from Rosa Luxemburg than to struggle with pin pricks in an offhand or surreptitious manner. Her character refused such a style of struggle cloaked in impotent “femininity”; she always sought an open struggle with the opponent.
But if one really wanted to distil from these two sentences a hidden relationship with the “Bolshevik policy,” they could mean something else entirely. The rumble of a retreating storm and not the first thunder of an approaching one. The leading party of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and of the Russian proletariat in 1918 was not the rigid social-democratic émigré organization of 1904. A world of revolutionary development, of maturing, lay between 1904 and 1918; these were months that played the role of years, and years that played the role of decades. Let us recall Lenin’s words about the shift in the party, as what was needed after the March 1917 revolution was to impel revolutionary politics on Russian soil. Rosa Luxemburg’s position on the “Bolsheviks” given this state of things could not remain unaffected. Of course this is not to say that she would have said yes and amen to each single pull, to every act of their policies. But the real question at issue was not the individual “faults” and “stupidity” of Bolshevik policy, as they were often sharply and openly criticized by Lenin and his friends themselves. To the decision stands an international problem of the struggling proletariat. To this Rosa Luxemburg continues in her “Spartacus programme”:
“But the proletarian revolution is at the same time the death knell for all servitude and oppression. That is why all capitalists, Junkers, petty bourgeois, officers, all opportunists and parasites of exploitation and class rule rise up against the proletarian revolution as they would for their own life and death.
“It is sheer insanity to believe that the capitalists would willingly obey the socialist verdict of a parliament or of a National Assembly, that they would calmly renounce property, profit, the right to exploit. All ruling classes have fought to the end, with tenacious energy, to preserve their privileges.
“The imperialist capitalist class, as last offspring of the exploiting classes, outdoes all its predecessors in brutality, in open cynicism and treachery. It defends its holiest of holies, its profit and its privilege of exploitation, with tooth and nail, with every method of cold evil which it demonstrated in its entire history of colonial politics and in the recent world war. It will mobilize heaven and hell against the proletariat in motion. It will mobilize the peasants against the cities, the backward strata of the working class against the socialist vanguard; it will use officers to instigate atrocities; it will try to paralyze every socialist measure with a thousand methods of passive resistance; it will force a score of Vendees33 on the revolution; it will invite the foreign enemy, the murderous weapons of Clemenceau, Lloyd George, and Wilson34 into the country to rescue it – it will turn the country into a smoking heap of rubble rather than voluntarily give up wage slavery.
“All this resistance must be broken step by step, with an iron fist and ruthless energy. The violence of the bourgeois counterrevolution must be confronted with the revolutionary violence of the proletariat. Against the attacks, insinuations and slanders of the bourgeoisie must stand the inflexible clarity of purpose, vigilance, and ever-ready activity of the proletarian mass. Against the threatening dangers of the counter-revolution, the arming of the people and disarming of the ruling classes.
“The fight for socialism is the mightiest civil war ever seen in world history, and the proletarian revolution must procure the necessary tools for this civil war; it must learn to use them – to struggle and to win.
“Such arming of the solid mass of labouring people with all political power for the tasks of the revolution – that is the dictatorship of the proletariat and therefore true democracy. Not where the wage slave sits next to the capitalist, the rural proletarian next to the Junker in fraudulent equality, to engage in parliamentary debate over questions of life or death, but where the million-headed proletarian mass seizes the entire power of the state in its calloused fist – like the god Thor his hammer -to smash the head of the ruling classes: that alone is democracy, that alone is not a betrayal of the people.”
The meaning of these statements is clear. Here it is as with Luther: “They shall allow the word to stand.” Does anyone believe that the Thor’s hammer of the proletarian state power could be forged out of the paper of the “Mitteilungsblatt” or of “Unser Weg” and “Freiheit”? “From cardboard I cannot forge a sword,” sings young Siegfried to the dwarf called Mime.
Klara Zetkin, ‘Um Rosa Luxemburgs Stellung zur russischen Revolution’, Hamburg, Verlag der Kommunistischen International, 1922, pp. 61-102.Translation from the German: John Catalinotto
1 Also known simply as the Social-Democratic Party of Germany (S.P.D.), it played an openly social-chauvinist role in World War I, calling for the support of German imperialism.
2 The Independent Social-Democratic Party of Germany (U.S.P.D.), formed in 1917 after an earlier split from the S.P.D., it tried to follow a centrist path between the S.P.D and the Spartacus League, later the Communist Party of Germany (K.P.D.), which played an independent role within the U.S.P.D. In December 1920 the U.S.P.D. split, with a majority of 400,000 members joining the K.P.D. and the remaining 340,000 staying with the U.S.P.D. In 1922 the U.S.P.D. merged with the S.P.D.
3 The Rote Fahne was the organ of the Spartacus League, later the Communist Party of Germany.
4 Berlin Local Advertiser, a reactionary, pro-Kaiser Berlin daily newspaper.
5 The Spartacus League was the group of German revolutionaries formed during World War I that included Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, Wilhelm Pieck, Leo Jogiches, Paul Levi and others. Initially working as an independent group within the U.S.P.D., in December of 1918 it became the Communist Party of Germany.
6 German Parliament, or Parliament of the German Empire.
7 Friedrich Ebert was a leader of the S.P.D. who directed the S.P.D. Reichstag members to vote for war credits in 1914. He was instrumental in crushing the German revolutionary uprisings at the end of World War I and later became President of Germany from 1919 until he died in 1925.
8 Philipp Scheidemann was also a leader of the S.P.D. He joined the German government in October of 1918. Although he fought for amnesty for political prisoners he was strongly opposed to a Workers’ Republic and became chancellor of the Weimar Coalition Government in 1919.
9 Hugo Haase was a supposed anti-war member of parliament from the S.P.D., but when that party voted to support the war, he declared: “We won’t abandon the Fatherland in the hour of danger.” He became chair of the U.S.P.D. in 1917 and joined the Provisional Government in November 1918, but resigned together with the two other U.S.P.D. representatives on December 29, 1918 after the crushing of the revolt of the People’s Navy Division a few days earlier. He was shot to death in 1919.
10 Karl Kautsky was a once revolutionary leader of the German Social-Democrats. During and after World War I he became a leading opportunist, against whom Lenin wrote many polemics (see in particular his book, The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, written in 1918).
11 The Executive Council was dominated by the two opportunist Social-Democratic Parties that opposed a workers’ revolution in Germany.
12 The bourgeois parliament in Germany from February 1919 to June 1920. It drew up the Constitution of Germany that was in effect until 1933 and even technically under Nazi rule until 1945.
13 Eduard David and Konrad Haenisch were both S.P.D. politicians during and after World War I.
14 A Swiss-born theologian educated in Germany.
15 The October Revolution was called that because of the Julian Calendar in use in Russia at that time. It actually took place on November 7, 1917.
16 Ernst Daumig was co-chair of the U.S.P.D. and chief editor of its newspaper, Die Freiheit. He briefly became a member of the K.P.D. when the majority of the U.S.P.D. joined that party in 1920, but resigned together with Paul Levi in 1922.
17 “Writing on the Wall,” a biblical reference from the Book of Daniel.
18 A military caste in Egypt from about 1250 until 1811, shortly after Napoleon’s conquest of that country. They were originally made up of slaves from Turkey.
19 Newspaper of the U.S.P.D.
20 Newspaper of the S.P.D.
21 The revolutionary shop stewards and representatives were delegates elected by the workers in the enterprises who were not part of the official trade union structure.
22 A member of the Spartacus League and then the Communist party of Germany (K.P.D.), Levi became chair of the K.P.D. after the assassinations of Luxemburg and Liebknecht, and later in 1919 of Leo Jogiches. In 1921 he was expelled from the K.P.D. and in 1922 he republished Luxemburg’s pamphlet “The Russian Revolution” with his own introduction. Also in 1922 he joined the U.S.P.D. and returned with them to the S.P.D. He died in 1930.
23 Arthur Crispien was a leader of the U.S.P.D. He was a U.S.P.D. delegate to the 2nd World Congress of the Comintern but refused to accept its conditions of admission.
24 Georg Lebedour was a leader of the U.S.D.P. who took part in the January 1919 uprising.
25 One of the leading press agencies in Europe.
26 Gustav Noske was a leading S.P.D. politician. He was commander of the Freikorps, the German reactionary military units during the period after World War I, at the time of its suppression of the January 1919 uprising and the murder of Luxemburg and Liebknecht.
27 Adolphe Thiers and Marquis de Gallifet were respectively the political and military leaders responsible for the suppression of the Paris Commune in 1871.
28 Matthias Erzberger was a parliamentary representative of the Catholic Centre Party who supported Germany’s role in World War I until 1917, when he saw that Germany was going to lose. He signed the armistice with the Allies for the German government.
29 German bourgeois politicians who took part in the Weimar government in Germany after World War I.
30 German conservative newspaper whose symbol was an Iron Cross.
31 Representative of the French National Assembly, which granted him full powers to suppress the 1848 insurrection in Paris.
32 The German S.P.D. journal that had published Luxemburg’s article: “Organizational Questions of the Russian Social Democracy”, published in Russian in Iskra (see introduction).
33 Symbol of the destruction of the Paris Commune.
34 Representatives of French, British and U.S. imperialism respectively in World War I.
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