On the Russian Revolution

Rosa Luxemburg 1918

* indicates annotations from original English-language edition (Workers Age Publishers, New York: 1940).

± indicates marginal notes by Rosa Luxemburg.

† indicates translator’s note.

I

The Russian Revolution represents the most tremendous event to have occurred during the world war. Its outbreak, its unprecedented radicalism and the effect that it continues to exert give the lie to the rhetoric employed zealously by official German social democracy as an ideological cover for German imperialism’s campaign of conquest when this campaign was initiated—i.e. the rhetoric according to which it was the mission of German bayonets to overthrow Russian Czarism and to liberate its oppressed peoples. The revolution in Russia has assumed an enormous scale; its far-reaching effects have convulsed all class relations; it has enveloped all social and economic problems; and it has made consistent progress since the initial stage of the bourgeois republic, such that the overthrow of Czarism remains a mere brief episode and is virtually reduced to a trifling significance. All these circumstances clearly demonstrate that the liberation of Russia was not the work of the war and the military defeat of Czarism, that it was not to be credited to ‘German bayonets in German fists’—contrary to the pledge thus formulated in a leading article in Die Neue Zeit under Kautsky’s editorship. Instead they show that the liberation of Russia had deep roots in Russia itself, and that internally it was fully ripe. The military adventure of German imperialism under the ideological cover provided by German social democracy did not bring about the revolution in Russia—on the contrary, this military adventure initially interrupted the revolution for a period following the latter’s first storm surge in the years from 1911 to 1913, and served to create the most adverse, abnormal conditions for the revolution following its subsequent eruption.

     Moreover, for any thinking observer this course of events also constitutes a powerful refutation of the doctrinaire theory to which both Kautsky and the government-Social-Democrats* subscribe—namely that Russia, as an economically backward, predominantly agrarian country, is not yet ripe for social revolution and a dictatorship of the proletariat. This theory, which holds that the only feasible revolution in Russia is a bourgeois one, is simultaneously shared by the opportunistic wing of the Russian workers’ movement, the so-called Mensheviks under the seasoned leadership of Axelrod and Dan; it is from such a conception that socialists in Russia derive their tactic of forming a coalition with bourgeois liberalism. Both the Russian and the German opportunists concur completely with the German government-Social-Democrats in this fundamental conception of the Russian Revolution—a conception which automatically entails the position taken with regard to the detailed questions of tactics: in the opinion of all three factions, the Russian Revolution ought to have come to a halt at the stage corresponding to the noble task which, according to the mythology propagated by German Social Democracy, the war waged by German imperialism had set itself, namely the overthrow of Czarism. If the revolution went beyond this stage, if it set itself the task of establishing a dictatorship of the proletariat, then this corresponded, according to the above doctrine, to a simple error on the part of the radical wing of the Russian workers’ movement (i.e. on the part of the Bolsheviks); likewise, on this view, all the inclemencies that have befallen the revolution and all the turmoil that has afflicted it in its subsequent trajectory present themselves as the result of this fateful error. Theoretically, this doctrine, which is recommended as the fruit of ‘Marxist thought’ by the Vorwärts of Stampfer and by Kautsky alike, boils down to the original ‘Marxist’ discovery that the socialist revolution is a national, domestic affair, so-to-speak, for each modern state in itself. Of course, someone such as Kautsky knows very well how to outline within the ether of an abstract schema the world-economic connections of capital that turn all modern countries into a single integrated organism.

     Russia’s revolution, which is the fruit both of an international development and of the agrarian question, cannot be resolved within the constraints of bourgeois society.

     Practically, this doctrine tends towards a denial of the responsibility of the international—and first and foremost the German—proletariat with regard to the history of the Russian Revolution, thus abnegating the international context of this revolution. It is not the immaturity of Russia that has been demonstrated by the course taken by the war and the Russian Revolution, but rather that of the German proletariat relative to what is required in order for it to fulfil its historical mission; it is the primary task of any critical appraisal of the Russian Revolution to bring this to the fore as explicitly as possible. The fate of the Russian Revolution depended entirely on international events. That the Bolsheviks have based their policy completely on the world revolution of the proletariat is the most brilliant testament to their political far-sightedness and fundamental steadfastness, and to the audacious sweep of their policy. It is in this context that the tremendous leap taken by capitalist development in the last decade becomes manifest. The revolution of 1905–7 evoked no more than a feeble resonance in Europe. As such it necessarily remained a mere opening chapter. The continuation and resolution of what had been thus initiated were bound up with European development.

     Clearly, not uncritical apologetics, but thorough and considered criticism alone is capable of salvaging the wealth of experiences and drawing the lessons from what has occurred. It would indeed be a ludicrous notion to claim that absolutely everything that those undertaking the first world-historical experiment with the dictatorship of the working class have done—or have omitted to do—represents the pinnacle of perfection, especially given that this experiment has taken place under the most difficult conditions imaginable: it has been attempted in the midst of a worldwide conflagration and the chaos of an imperialist genocide, within the iron coils of the most reactionary military power in Europe, and despite being confronted by the complete failure of the international proletariat. Conversely, the elementary concepts of socialist politics and an insight into the necessary historical preconditions for such a politics render unavoidable the assumption that, under such fatal conditions, even the most colossal idealism and most steadfast revolutionary energy are incapable of realizing democracy or socialism, and can engender nothing more than impotent, distorted attempts at either.

     It is the absolutely elementary duty of socialists in all countries to clarify for themselves these issues, along with their profound interconnections and far-reaching effects, since it is only by means of such bitter realization that the entire extent of the international proletariat’s own responsibility for the fate of the Russian Revolution can be gauged. Furthermore, it is along this path alone that the decisive importance of the concerted international advance of the proletarian revolution is thrown into sharp relief—i.e. as a fundamental condition, in the absence of which even the greatest proficiency and sacrifices on the part of the proletariat in a single country will inevitably become embroiled in a confusion of contradictions and errors.

     Nor can there be any doubt that it has only been with the greatest internal misgivings and extreme inner reluctance that the intelligent figures at the vanguard of the Russian Revolution—i.e. Lenin and Trotsky—have taken certain decisive steps on the thorny path navigated by them, with snares of all kinds on either side. Lenin and Trotsky have acted under conditions of bitter compulsion and exigency amid the swirling maelstrom of events; nothing could be more alien to these leading figures than to see everything that they have done—and everything that they have omitted to do—in these conditions meet with acquiescence on the part of the International and be held up as the prototype for socialist policy, a paradigm to be uncritically acclaimed and eagerly imitated.

     It would be equally inappropriate to fear that a critical appraisal of the road taken thus far by the Russian Revolution might serve to dangerously undermine the esteem in which Russian proletarians are held or the fascination they attract as paragons—a role which is, so the argument runs, supposedly necessary in order to overcome the fatal inertia of the German masses. Nothing could be more perverse than such a point of view. An awakening of the revolutionary drive of the working class in Germany cannot be conjured up by appealing to an immaculate authority in the spirit of the paternalistic methods employed by the German Social Democracy of blessed memory, whether such authority be that of the Party’s own ‘executive bodies’ or that of the ‘Russian paradigm’. It is not the generation of a mood of revolutionary euphoria that can engender the historic capacity for action within the German proletariat—on the contrary, this can only be achieved through insight into the dreadful earnestness and extreme complicatedness of the tasks at hand, it can only emerge from political maturity and intellectual independence, from a capacity for critical judgment on the part of the masses (a faculty systematically extirpated over decades by German Social Democracy under various pretexts). For German and international workers alike, to engage critically with the Russian Revolution in all its historical connections represents the best possible schooling for the tasks confronting them as a result of the contemporary situation.


* During the war the German Social-Democracy divided into three factions: the majority leadership, which openly supported and entered into the Imperial government; the Kautsky section, which declined responsibility for the conduct of the war but supplied many of the theoretical arguments for those who accepted such responsibility; and the section led by Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, which openly opposed the war, counterposing international solidarity and proletarian revolution to it.


II

In its general course, the first period of the Russian Revolution, from its outbreak in March to the overthrow of the Provisional Government in October, corresponds precisely to the schema of development that characterizes both the Great English Revolution and the Great French Revolution. It is the typical trajectory of each initial major general confrontation between the revolutionary forces engendered within the womb of bourgeois society and the fetters of the old society.

     Its development naturally travels along an ascending line: from moderate beginnings toward an ever greater radicalization of aims and, in parallel, from a coalition between parties and classes toward the autocracy of the radical party.

     Initially, in March 1917, the ‘Cadets’—i.e. the liberal bourgeoisie—stood at the head of the revolution. The first general swell of the revolutionary high tide swept everyone and everything along with it: the Fourth Duma, the most reactionary product of the four-class suffrage1 that had ensued from the coup d’état,2 was suddenly transformed into an organ of the revolution. All the bourgeois parties, including those of the nationalist right, suddenly formed a phalanx against absolutism. The latter was toppled by the first assault virtually without any struggle, like a deceased organ that merely needed to be touched in order for it to fall away from the body. The brief attempt by the liberal bourgeoisie to salvage at least the dynasty and the throne was likewise crushed within a few hours. In a matter of days, or even hours, the torrential surge of this development hurtled over distances that it had previously taken decades to cover in France. Here it was evident that Russia was realizing the results of a century-long European development and above all that the 1917 revolution was a direct continuation of that of 1905–7, rather than a gift bestowed by German ‘liberators’. The movement of March 1917 immediately resumed at the very point where it had interrupted its work ten years previously. The democratic republic was the finished, internally ripened product of the revolution’s very first assault.

     Now, however, began the second and more difficult task. From the outset, the masses of the urban proletariat had been the driving force of the revolution. The former’s demands were not limited to political democracy, however; they were also oriented towards the burning question of international policy: the question of an immediate peace. The revolution simultaneously gripped the mass of the army, which raised the same demand for an immediate peace, and the mass of the peasantry, which pushed the agrarian question—the pivot of the revolution since 1905—into the foreground. An immediate peace on the one hand, and land on the other: the co-existence of these two goals entailed an internal split within the revolutionary phalanx. The demand for an immediate peace stood in sharp contradiction with the imperialist tendency of the liberal bourgeoisie, whose spokesperson was Milyukov;3 the land question was initially a bugbear for the other wing of the bourgeoisie (i.e. for the squirearchy), but it was subsequently to become a sore point for the entire bourgeois class as it represented an attack on the sanctity of private property in general.

     Thus, on the day following the revolution’s first victory, there began an internal struggle within its fold over these two burning issues: peace and the land question. The liberal bourgeoisie initiated a tactic of filibustering and evasion. The masses of workers, the army and the peasantry surged forward ever more tumultuously. There can be no doubt that the fate of the political democracy of the republic was bound up with the questions of peace and land. The bourgeois classes, which had been inundated by the first storm surge of the revolution and had allowed themselves to be swept along to the point where the republican form of the state was established, began at once to search for support bases in the rear and set about the clandestine organization of the counter-revolution. Kaledin’s Cossack campaign against Petersburg4 was a clear expression of this tendency. Had this offensive met with success, it would not only have set the seal on the question of peace and the agrarian question: it would have sealed the fate of the republic itself. A military dictatorship with a reign of terror over the proletariat and the subsequent restoration of the monarchy would have formed the inexorable sequence of events.

     Against this background it is possible to gauge the utopian—and at core reactionary—tactic by which the Russian Kautskyite socialists (the Mensheviks) have allowed themselves to be guided.

     It has been nothing less than astonishing to observe how this diligent man5 has, through his tireless labor of writing during the four years that the world war has lasted, calmly and methodically torn one theoretical hole after the other in the fabric of socialism, such that the latter emerges from this labor like a sieve, not a single part of it intact. The uncritical indifference with which Kautsky’s followers regard this assiduous endeavor by their official theoretician, swallowing each of his new discoveries without so much as batting an eyelid, can only be matched by the indifference with which the followers of Scheidemann and co. witness how the latter proceed to tear holes in socialism in practice, step by step. Indeed these two endeavors complement each other perfectly; since the outbreak of the war, Kautsky, the official guardian of the temple of Marxism, has in reality merely elaborated theoretically what the Scheidemanns have accomplished in practice: firstly, the establishment of the International as an instrument of peace; secondly, disarmament, the League of Nations and nationalism; and, finally, democracy, as opposed to socialism

     Holding tenaciously to the fiction of the bourgeois character of the Russian Revolution on the grounds that Russia was allegedly not yet ripe for social revolution, they clung desperately to the coalition with the bourgeois liberals—i.e. to the forcible alliance between those elements that had been so divided by the natural, internal course of revolutionary development that they now stood in a relation of utter contradiction with one another. These Axelrods and Dans aimed to cooperate at any price with the very classes and parties that represented the greatest threat to the revolution and to democracy—the latter representing the revolution’s first achievement.

     Given this situation, it is to the historic credit of the Bolshevik tendency that it has, from the outset, proclaimed and pursued with iron consistency the only tactic that could rescue democracy and drive the revolution forwards. All power was to be held exclusively by the masses of workers and peasants, by the soviets: this was effectively the only way out of the difficulty in which the revolution had become embroiled—this was the sword stroke with which the Gordian knot was cut. This was the means by which the revolution was led through the narrow mountain pass and the way was opened towards the open country in which it could continue to unfold without inhibition.

     Lenin’s party was thus the only one in Russia that had a grasp of the true interests of the revolution in this initial period—it was the element which drove the revolution forwards, being in this sense the only party to pursue a socialist politics.

     This also explains how the Bolsheviks, who at the beginning of the revolution constituted a minority that was ostracized, slandered and hounded on all sides, were led within the briefest period of time to the forefront of the revolution and were able to rally under their banner all the genuinely popular masses—the urban proletariat, the army, the peasantry—alongside the revolutionary elements within democracy (i.e. the left wing of the Socialist Revolutionaries).

     The actual situation in which the Russian Revolution found itself came down within a few months to the following alternative: victory of the counter-revolution or dictatorship of the proletariat—i.e. Kaledin or Lenin. Such was the objective situation which very soon arises in every revolution once the first intoxication has evaporated; in the Russian case, this situation resulted from those concrete, burning questions—the question of peace and that of land—for which no solution was to be found within the framework of the ‘bourgeois’ revolution.

     Here the Russian Revolution has merely confirmed the basic lesson of every great revolution, whose vital law can be formulated as follows: the revolution must either press forward very rapidly and decisively, tearing down all obstacles with an iron hand and setting its goals ever further ahead, or else it will very soon be cast back behind its weaker starting point and crushed by the counter revolution. In revolution there can be no standing still, no running on the spot, no settling for the first goal that happens to be achieved. And those who attempt to apply the homespun wisdoms gleaned from the parliamentary battles of frogs and mice to revolutionary tactics merely demonstrate that the psychology of the revolution and its very vital law are utterly alien to them, and that all historical experience is to them a book with seven seals.

     Consider the course of the English Revolution following its outbreak in 1642. Here the logic of events entailed that it was only the feeble vacillations of the Presbyterians and the halting war against the royalist army—the Presbyterian leaders deliberately avoiding a decisive battle with, and victory over, Charles I—that rendered decisive action on the part of the Independents an incontrovertible necessity: the latter had no alternative but to drive the Presbyterians out of Parliament and to seize power themselves. And furthermore, within the army of the Independents it was likewise the lower petty-bourgeois mass of the soldiers, the Lilburnian ‘Levelers’, that formed the driving force of the entire Independent movement, just as it was ultimately the proletarian elements of the mass of soldiers—those that found expression in the Digger movement—that constituted the leaven of the democratic party of the ‘Levelers’.

     Without the intellectual influence of revolutionary proletarian elements on the mass of soldiers, and without the pressure exerted by the democratic mass of soldiers on the bourgeois upper stratum of the party of the Independents, there would have been no ‘purging’ of Presbyterians from the Long Parliament, nor any victorious end to the war against the army of the Cavaliers and the Scots, nor the trial and execution of Charles I, nor the abolition of the House of Lords and the proclamation of the republic.

     And how did events unfold in the French Revolution? The seizure of power by the Jacobins proved after four years of struggle to be the only means of salvaging the gains of the revolution, of realizing the republic, of smashing feudalism, of organizing the defense of the revolution both internally and externally, of suppressing the conspiracy of counter-revolution, and of spreading the revolutionary wave from France to all of Europe.

     Kautsky and his Russian kindred spirits, who were at pains to uphold the ‘bourgeois character’ of the Russian Revolution in its first phase, represent the direct counterpart to those German and English liberals of the preceding century who distinguished two phases in the Great French Revolution: the ‘good’ revolution of the initial, Girondin phase and the ‘bad’ one initiated by the Jacobin coup. The shallowness of the liberal conception of history naturally required no understanding of the fact that without the coup by the ‘immoderate’ Jacobins, the initial, tentative, semi-gains of the first, Girondin phase would have been immediately buried underneath the ruins of the revolution; likewise, this conception simply ignored the fact that in 1793, the real alternative posed to the Jacobin dictatorship by the iron course of historical development did not consist in ‘moderate’ democracy, but rather in the restoration of the Bourbons! The ‘happy medium’ cannot be maintained in any revolution, for the natural law of revolution demands a swift decision: either the locomotive is driven full steam ahead to the furthest point of its historical ascent, or else its own gravitational force will cause it to roll back down to its point of departure at the bottom, plunging irredeemably into the abyss all those who, during its ascent, had attempted to stop it halfway up because their energy was depleted.

     This explains how it is that, in every revolution, only the party that has the courage to issue the call to surge forward and is willing to assume responsibility for the consequences will be capable of taking leadership and seizing power. This also explains the deplorable role played by the Mensheviks—the Dans, the Tseretelis and others—who, having initially exerted an immense influence on the masses, were then given to protracted vacillations, and, having resisted tooth and nail the seizure of power and the taking of responsibility, were then swept ignominiously from the stage.

     Lenin’s party was the only one to understand what is required of a truly revolutionary party and wherein its duty consists; it was the only one to ensure the progress of the revolution by issuing the slogan: ‘all power to the proletariat and peasantry’.

     It was thus that the Bolsheviks solved the famous question of ‘the majority of the people’— a question that has long weighed upon the German Social Democrats like a nightmare. As inveterate acolytes of parliamentary cretinism* they simply apply the homespun wisdoms of the parliamentary nursery to the revolution: in order to carry anything through, it is first necessary to have a majority—so the argument runs. The same supposedly applies to a revolution: first a ‘majority’ has to be formed. The actual dialectic of revolutions turns this wisdom of parliamentary moles on its head, however: the path runs not from the formation of a majority to revolutionary tactics, but rather in the opposite direction—i.e. from revolutionary tactics to the formation of a majority. Only a party that understands how to lead—i.e. how to drive things forward—gains support in the midst of the storm. The resoluteness with which, at the decisive moment, Lenin and his comrades issued the only slogan that could propel events forward—‘all power to the proletariat and peasantry’—transformed them almost overnight from a persecuted and much-maligned minority, whose leaders were obliged like Marat to hide in basements, into the absolute masters of the situation.

     Furthermore, the Bolsheviks immediately established a complete and extremely far-reaching revolutionary program as the goal of this seizure of power: this program consisted not in the securing of bourgeois democracy, but in the dictatorship of the proletariat for the purpose of realizing socialism. In historic terms, it is thereby to their eternal credit that they were the first to proclaim the ultimate goals of socialism as the immediate program of practical policy.

     Lenin, Trotsky and their comrades have fully accomplished all that a party could possibly muster in the hour of revolution in the way of courage, forcefulness of action, revolutionary far-sightedness and consistency. The Bolsheviks evinced the revolutionary honor and capacity for action that was so entirely lacking in western social democracy. Their October uprising not only actually rescued the Russian Revolution, it also salvaged the honor of international socialism.


1 According to the electoral law of December 1905, the electorate was divided into three curiae (constituencies) according to estate and property, whereby landowners were accorded particular privileges and the number of members of parliament representing workers and peasants was restricted. After the coup d’état of 1907, further restrictions were added to this undemocratic electoral law, effectively guaranteeing domination of the Duma by large-scale landowners and the high bourgeoisie and ensuring that the peoples of the peripheral regions of Russia were either disenfranchised altogether or enfranchised only to an extremely restricted extent.

2 On June 3 1907, the Czarist government had dissolved the second imperial State Duma and ordered the arrest of the members of the parliamentary group of the Social Democratic Party. It had simultaneously issued a new electoral law without the approval of the imperial State Duma. This coup d’état allowed the government to claim a right-wing oriented majority in the Duma and to turn the imperial State Duma that was elected in 1912 into an organ of power of ‘the reactionary strata, the Tsarist bureaucracy allied to the feudal landowners and the top bourgeoisie’ (Lenin Collected Works, Volume 19, p. 48).

3 The leader of the Cadets, P.N. Milyukov, was Foreign Minister within the Provisional Government.

† [Landjunkertum].

4 The Cossack Ataman, A.M. Kaledin, had mobilized the Don Cossacks in support of the counter-revolutionary troops that marched on Petrograd under the leadership of L.G. Kornilov with the aim of crushing the revolution and establishing a military dictatorship. Led by the Bolsheviks, the workers and soldiers confronted the counter-revolutionaries and inflicted a total defeat upon them.

5 Luxemburg refers here to Karl Kautsky.

* Here, as at various points in the manuscript, the passage is still in the form of rough notations which Rosa Luxemburg intended to complete later. Her murder by military agents of the Social-Democratic coalition government prevented her from completing and revising the work. The expression, ‘the International an instrument of peace’ refers to the excuses Kautsky gave for its bankruptcy during the war (‘an instrument of peace is not suited to times of war’). It probably refers also to the theory that the International, being peaceful, is not an instrument for revolutionary struggle. Kautsky substituted utopian talk of disarmament (without the removal of the causes and roots of war!) for a revolutionary struggle against war. He provided apologetics for the League of Nations which was supposed to have banished war from the world, and he justified socialists who abandoned internationalism, supported their own governments and ruling classes, and became in theory and practice nationalists instead of internationalists. When the struggle for socialism began in earnest, the Scheidemanns defended capitalism against socialism in practice, while Kautsky did so in theory by explaining that capitalist ‘democracy’ was democracy in the abstract, and that they were defending ‘democracy’. Hence the third point means: the advocacy of democracy as against socialism.

The passage in slightly expanded form might read something as follows:

(1) the International as an instrument for peace-time only and for the maintenance of peace; (2) advocacy of the doctrines of disarmament, apologetics for the League of Nations and nationalism against internationalism; (3) and the advocacy of ‘democracy’ as against socialism.

Batrachomyomachia, or the Battle of Frogs and Mice, is an ancient parody of the Iliad (a work traditionally attributed to Homer); its authorship has not been conclusively established.

* A term first applied by Marx to those parliamentarians who think that all history is decided by motions, votes and points of parliamentary debate.


III

The Bolsheviks are the historical heirs of the English Levelers and the French Jacobins. Yet the concrete task that confronted them following their seizure of power was incomparably more difficult than that of their historical predecessors.± The slogan of the immediate and instantaneous seizure and distribution of land by the peasants1 was undoubtedly the most succinct, the simplest and most lapidary formula for achieving two goals: the smashing of large-scale landed property and the immediate binding of the peasants to the revolutionary government. As a political measure in order to reinforce the proletarian-socialist government, this was indeed a superb tactic. Unfortunately, however, it had two sides: the reverse side was that the immediate seizure of the land by the peasants had, for the most part, nothing in common with a socialist economy.

     The socialist reconfiguration of economic relations presupposes two conditions that must obtain in relation to agrarian relations: firstly, the nationalization of large-scale landed property in particular, as this represents the most technically advanced concentration of agrarian means of production and methods that alone can be conducive to the point of departure—i.e. to the socialist mode of economy in the countryside. It is of course not necessary to deprive the small-scale peasant of his parcel of land, and it is not a problem to suggest to him that he might allow himself, of his own free will, to be won over by the advantages of social production first to cooperative association and ultimately to inclusion within overall social production.†† In view of these considerations, it is self-evident that every socialist economic reform in the countryside must begin with large- and medium-scale land ownership. Such a reform must transfer the right of property above all to the nation, or rather—and this amounts to the same thing under a socialist government—to the state, for this alone will afford the possibility of organizing agricultural production according to a range of important and interlocking socialist considerations.

     Secondly, however, one of the preconditions of this reconfiguration is the elimination of the separation between agriculture and industry that is characteristic of bourgeois society in order to make room for a reciprocal permeation between, and a melting into each other of, these two spheres, and in order to permit an arrangement of both agricultural and industrial production according to a unified standpoint. However productive operations might be organized at the individual level (whether through urban communities as suggested by some, or centrally by the state), a uniformly implemented and centrally initiated reform is a precondition in any case; and a precondition for such a reform is the nationalization of the land. The nationalization of large- and medium-scale landed property and the unification of industry and agriculture—these are two fundamental facets of any socialist economic reform: without them, there can be no socialism.

     Who can reproach the Soviet government in Russia for not having implemented these colossal reforms? Lenin and his comrades have held power for no more than a brief period, and have found themselves in the midst of the powerful vortex of internal and external struggles, besieged on all sides by countless enemies and opponents. It would be a witticism in poor taste to demand or to expect of Lenin and his comrades that, in these conditions, they should have solved, or even begun to tackle, one of the most difficult problems of the socialist revolution—in fact it would be no exaggeration to say the most difficult problem! Once we too have taken power in the west, we will, even in the most favorable of conditions, lose some teeth in our attempts to crack this tough nut before we have even overcome the worst of the innumerable complicated difficulties of this enormous task!

     Once it has taken power, a socialist government must in any case do one thing: it must take measures that are oriented toward fulfilling the above-mentioned preconditions for a subsequent socialist reform of agrarian relations, or it must at least avoid anything that could bar the way to the taking of such measures.

     Yet the slogan issued by the Bolsheviks calling for the immediate seizure and distribution of landed property by the peasants necessarily had an effect in virtually the opposite direction. Not only does this fail to constitute a socialist measure, it also blocks the route to any such measure: it piles up insurmountable difficulties in the path of the reconfiguration of agrarian relations along socialist lines.

     The seizure of landed property by the peasants on hearing Lenin and friends' brief and lapidary slogan—'go and seize the land!'—merely led to the sudden, chaotic transfer of large-scale land ownership to peasant land ownership. What this created was not social property, but new private property, and concretely it represented the breaking up of large-scale property into medium- and small-scale property, and the fragmentation of the relatively advanced large-scale agricultural enterprise into the primitive, small-scale holding, the latter operating technically with means from the time of the Pharaohs. Worse still: not only did this measure and the chaotic and purely arbitrary form of its implementation fail to eliminate property disparities in the countryside, these were in fact intensified. Although the Bolsheviks called on the peasantry to form peasant committees in order to turn the seizure of the landed property of the nobility somehow into collective action, it is clear that this general guidance could alter nothing in relation to the actual practice and the actual power relations in the countryside. With or without committees, the rich peasants and usurers who formed the village bourgeoisie and who hold actual local power have been without doubt the main beneficiaries of the agrarian revolution. As anyone can tell without a moment’s hesitation by merely reckoning on their fingers, social and economic inequality within the peasantry has not been eliminated as a result of the distribution of the land—on the contrary, it has increased, and class antagonisms within this sphere have been intensified. This shift in power has occurred to the detriment of proletarian and socialist interests, however.

     Lenin's speech on necessary centralization in industry, nationalization of the banks, commerce and industry. Why not of the land?

     Lenin's own agrarian program was different before the revolution. The slogan was taken over from the much-maligned Socialist-Revolutionaries, or more accurately, from the spontaneous movement of the peasantry.

     In order to introduce socialist principles into agrarian relations, the Soviet government now sought to create agrarian communes made up of proletarians—mostly urban, unemployed elements. Nevertheless, as might easily be anticipated, the results of these efforts necessarily remained vanishingly slight when measured against the entire scale of agrarian relations, and do not represent a significant factor when assessing this question.± (Having broken up large-scale landed property—the most suitable starting point for a socialist economy—into small-scale holdings, the attempt is now made to build up model communist productive facilities from small beginnings). Under the given relations, these communes merely have the value of an experiment, and not that of a comprehensive social reform.

     Previously any socialist reform in the countryside faced resistance from at most a small caste of aristocratic and capitalist large-scale landowners and a small minority of the rich village bourgeoisie; the expropriation of these strata by a revolutionary mass of the people would be child's play. Now, by contrast, following the 'seizure of landed property', any socialist socialization of agriculture will be confronted by an adversary consisting of an enormously expanded and powerful mass of the property-owning peasantry, which will fight tooth and nail to defend its newly acquired property from any socialist attacks. Now the question of the future socialization of agriculture and thus of production generally in Russia has become a matter of antagonism and struggle between the urban proletariat on the one hand and the mass of peasants on the other. How sharp this antagonism has already become is demonstrated by the peasants' boycott of the cities, whereby the former withhold foodstuffs from the latter in order to engage in profiteering with these means of existence, in precisely the same way as practiced by the Prussian Junkers.

     The French peasant of the small-scale holding became the most valiant defender of the great French Revolution that had provided him with the land confiscated from the émigrés. As a Napoleonic soldier he carried the French flag to victory, traversing the whole of Europe and crushing feudalism in one country after the other. It might be that Lenin and his friends expected that their agrarian slogan would have a similar effect. Yet the Russian peasant, having seized possession of the land on his own initiative, would not dream of defending Russia and the revolution to which he owes his land. Instead he clings to his new possessions, abandoning the revolution to its enemies, the state to its downfall, and the urban population to starvation.

     Lenin's agrarian reform has engendered in the countryside a new, powerful popular stratum of adversaries of socialism, whose resistance will be much more dangerous and tenacious than that previously offered by the aristocratic owners of large estates.

     The Bolsheviks are in part to blame for the fact that military defeat has turned into the collapse and disintegration of Russia. To a great extent, the Bolsheviks have themselves aggravated these objective difficulties within the situation through a slogan2 that they have brought to the fore of their policy—namely the so-called right of self-determination of nations.3 What such a slogan implied in reality was the disintegration of the Russian state. The right of the various nationalities of the Russian Empire to determine their own fate independently, 'including through separation from the Russian state' was a formula repeated time and again with doctrinaire obstinacy by Lenin and his comrades, and it formed a particular battle cry of theirs during their opposition to the war waged by Milyukov and then by Kerensky;4*5 this formula formed the axis of their domestic policy after the October Revolution, it constituted the entire platform of the Bolsheviks in Brest-Litovsk,6 being the only weapon that they could bring to bear against the dominant position of German imperialism.

     The most striking thing about the tenacity and unbending consistency with which Lenin and his comrades adhered to this slogan is that it stands in crass contradiction both with their otherwise outspoken centralism in politics and with the stance that they have taken vis-à-vis other democratic principles. On the one hand, they have displayed their profound disdain for the Constituent Assembly, for universal suffrage, for freedom of the press and freedom of assembly—in short, for the entire apparatus of basic democratic freedoms of the popular masses that, taken together, formed the 'right of self-determination' in Russia itself. On the other hand, however, they have treated the right of self-determination of nations as a jewel of democratic politics, for the sake of which all practical considerations of real critique were to be silenced. Whereas they had remained utterly unimpressed by the plebiscite for the Constituent Assembly—a plebiscite held on the basis of the most democratic franchise in the world and in the complete freedom of a people's republic—and had simply declared its results to be null and void on the basis of sober and critical deliberations,7 in Brest they advocated the holding of plebiscites among Russia's foreign nationalities over the latter’s state allegiance, and upheld such referendums as the true palladium of any freedom and democracy, as the unadulterated quintessence of the will of peoples and as the highest adjudicating authority in questions of the political destiny of nations.

     The blatant contradiction here is all the more incomprehensible given that, as we will see later, the democratic forms of political life in every country in actual fact represent highly valuable—or indeed indispensable—foundations of socialist politics, whereas the celebrated 'right of self-determination of nations' is nothing other than hollow, petty-bourgeois phraseology and humbug.

     Indeed, what is such a right supposed to signify? It belongs to the ABC of socialist politics that socialism opposes every form of oppression, including that of one nation by another.

     If, despite all this, Lenin and Trotsky and their friends—being otherwise such sober and critical politicians who have nothing but an ironic shrug of the shoulders for every kind of utopian phraseology such as ‘disarmament’, ‘League of Nations’ etc.—made just such a hollow phrase their own virtual hobbyhorse on this occasion, then it would seem that this occurred as a consequence of an opportunistic type of politics. Lenin and his comrades obviously made the calculation that the only secure means of binding the many disparate nationalities that coexisted within the bosom of the Russian Empire to the cause of the revolution, to the cause of the socialist proletariat, would be to grant them, in the name of the revolution and socialism, the utmost and most unrestricted freedom to decide their own destinies. This was analogous to the Bolsheviks’ policy vis-à-vis the Russian peasants, whose hunger for land was to be satiated by the slogan in favor of the direct seizure of the landed property of the nobility, thus binding them to the banner of the revolution and the proletarian government. Unfortunately, however, in both cases the calculation went completely awry. Lenin and his comrades evidently expected that as proponents of national liberation—even to the point of ‘secession from the state’—they would turn Finland, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, the Baltic countries, the Caucasian countries etc., into just as many loyal allies of the Russian Revolution; instead we witnessed a spectacle that was the reverse of these expectations: one after the other, these ‘nations’ took advantage of their freshly bestowed freedom in order to ally themselves with German imperialism as mortal enemies of the Russian Revolution and to carry the banner of counter-revolution to Russia itself under protection of their new ally. The brief episode involving Ukraine in Brest—a vignette that engendered a decisive turnaround in those negotiations and in the entire domestic and foreign political situation of the Bolsheviks—serves as a prime example of this tendency.8 The conduct of Finland, Poland, Lithuania, the Baltic countries and the nations of the Caucasus demonstrates in the most compelling terms that the Ukrainian case does not represent a random exception—instead it typifies the choice that is made in these instances.

     Admittedly, in all these cases it is not in actual fact the respective ‘nations’ that engage in such reactionary policies, but only the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois classes, who—in sharpest opposition to their own proletarian masses—pervert the ‘national right of self-determination’ into an instrument for their counter-revolutionary class politics. Yet—and this brings us to the very nub of the question—precisely therein lies the utopian, petty-bourgeois character of this nationalist slogan: within the harsh reality of class society, particularly in times when class antagonisms are extremely intensified, it simply transforms itself into a means of bourgeois class domination. The Bolsheviks have been taught a lesson, one that has caused them and the revolution a great deal of damage, namely that under the rule of capitalism there is no self-determination of the nation, that in a class society each class of the nation strives to ‘determine itself’ in a different way, and that for the bourgeois classes considerations of national freedom are completely subordinated to those of class domination. Like the Ukrainian petty-bourgeoisie, the Finnish bourgeoisie was completely unanimous in preferring German despotism to national freedom if the latter were associated with the dangers of ‘Bolshevism’.

     If Lenin and Trotsky seriously hoped that these actual class relations could be transformed into their opposite through the ‘plebiscites’ that formed the central focus in Brest, and that a majority vote in favor of alignment with the Russian Revolution could be achieved by relying on the revolutionary popular masses, this represented an incomprehensible optimism on the part of the Bolshevik leaders; if, on the other hand, this was merely a tactical feint in the duel with German despotism, then it was a perilous one that was tantamount to playing with fire. Even in the absence of German military occupation, the celebrated ‘plebiscite’—if ever such had been held in the peripheral countries—would in all probability have everywhere produced results that disappointed the Bolsheviks, given the state of mind of the mass of peasants and that of broad strata of proletarians (the latter displaying even more indifference than the former), and given the reactionary tendencies of the petty-bourgeoisie and the innumerable means of influencing the ballot that the bourgeoisie had at its disposal. Indeed, the following is an inviolable rule when it comes to such plebiscites on the national question: the ruling classes will either manage to prevent them from being held when they do not suit these classes, or, in the case where a plebiscite is actually held, these classes will be able to influence its outcome through a panoply of measures. The upshot of such measures is that socialism cannot be introduced by means of plebiscites.

     That the question of national aspirations and separatist tendencies was ever interpolated into revolutionary struggles at all was surely a grave error, one that was compounded by the fact that this question was foregrounded as a result of the Brest peace and, even more critically, by the fact that it was stamped as a shibboleth of socialist and revolutionary politics. All this has served to sow extreme confusion among socialist ranks and to shake the position of the proletariat in the peripheral countries in particular. In Finland, the socialist proletariat occupied a position of power for as long as it fought as part of the closed ranks of the Russian revolutionary phalanx: it held a majority in the Finnish parliament and in the army, it had reduced its own bourgeoisie to complete impotence, and it was master of the situation in the country. At the beginning of the century, at a time when the follies of ‘Ukrainian nationalism’—with its currency of karbovanets and its ‘Universals’*—and Lenin’s hobbyhorse of an ‘independent Ukraine’ had not yet been devised, Russian Ukraine was a stronghold of the Russian revolutionary movement. It was from there—from Rostov, Odessa and the Donetsk region—that the first lava streams of the revolution flowed in 1902–4, igniting the whole of southern Russia and turning it into a sea of flames, thus preparing the way for the 1905 eruption; the same thing occurred in the present revolution, in which the southern Russian proletariat furnished the elite troops of the proletarian phalanx. Since 1905, Poland and the Baltic countries have constituted the most powerful and reliable forges of the revolution, and the socialist proletariat has played a prominent role within them.

     How could it come to pass that the counter-revolution suddenly triumphed in all these countries? The nationalist movement tore the proletariat away from Russia, and it was precisely this that left the proletariat crippled and at the mercy of the national bourgeoisie in the peripheral countries. Contrary to the spirit of the pure, international class politics that they otherwise advocated, the Bolsheviks failed to strive for the most compact alignment and consolidation of revolutionary forces across the entire territory of the Empire; they omitted to defend tooth and nail the integrity of the Russian Empire as a territory of revolution; they failed to confront nationalist separatist endeavors by counterposing to these the common bond and inseparability of proletarians of all nations within the ambit of the Russian Revolution. Instead, the Bolsheviks have done the exact reverse: through their droning nationalist phraseology of the ‘right of self-determination, including that of secession from the state’, they have provided the bourgeoisie in all countries of the periphery with the most welcome and brilliant pretext for its counter-revolutionary campaigns and furnished the very banner under which these campaigns could be fought. Instead of warning proletarians in the countries of the periphery that any separatism is a bourgeois trap and suppressing separatist endeavors with an iron fist (the use of which would, in this case, have been truly in the spirit—and to the benefit—of proletarian dictatorship), they instead confused the masses in the peripheral countries with their slogan, leaving them vulnerable to the demagoguery of the bourgeois classes. Through this nationalist demand they paved the way for, and induced, the disintegration of Russia itself, thus pressing into the hands of their enemies the very knife that the latter would subsequently drive into the heart of the Russian Revolution.

     Admittedly, without the help of German imperialism (without the ‘rifle butts in German fists’ as Kautsky’s Neue Zeit put it), the Lubinskys and other Schufterles of Ukraine, the Erichs and Mannerheims of Finland and the Baltic barons would never have been able to overpower the socialist masses of proletarians in their respective countries. Yet national separatism was the Trojan horse by means of which German ‘comrades’ with bayonets in their fists were able to enter all these countries. Real class antagonisms and the military relations of power brought about the intervention by Germany. However, it was the Bolsheviks that furnished the ideology that provided cover for this campaign of counter-revolution, and in so doing they have reinforced the position of the bourgeoisie and weakened that of proletarians. The best evidence of this is Ukraine, which was to play such a fatal role in the destiny of the Russian Revolution. Ukrainian nationalism in Russia was very different from, for instance, the Czech, Polish or Finnish varieties: it was nothing but a mere whim, a folly of a few dozen petty-bourgeois members of the intelligentsia, without the slightest roots in the economic, political or intellectual relations of the country, without any historical tradition (given that Ukraine had never formed a nation or a state), without any national culture apart from the reactionary, romantic poems of Shevchenko. It is literally as if one fine morning, the inhabitants of the coastal regions of the North European Plain in which Low German is spoken were inspired by Fritz Reuter†† to attempt to found a new Low German nation and state! And this derisory farce involving a few university professors and students was artificially inflated into a political factor by Lenin and comrades through their doctrinaire agitation around the ‘the right of self-determination, including that of … etc.’ They accorded such an importance to what was initially nothing more than a farce that it eventually became a deadly serious matter—not as a serious national movement (since such a movement lacked any roots), but as a figurehead and rallying banner for the counter-revolution. At Brest, this fata morgana provided the cover for the creeping advance of German bayonets.

     There are times in the history of class struggles when such slogans take on a very real significance. The lot of socialism is a fatal one in that, in this world war, it fell to it to supply ideological pretexts for counter-revolutionary policy. At the outbreak of war, German social democracy hastened to bedeck the predatory expedition of German imperialism with an ideological shield retrieved from the lumber room of Marxism, by declaring this campaign to be what our doyens had yearned for—i.e. an expedition to liberate Russia (and other territories of the Russian Empire) from Czarism. It fell to the lot of the Bolsheviks—the very antipodes of the government-Socialists in Germany—to bring grist to the mill of the counter-revolution with their slogan in favor of the self-determination of nations, thus supplying an ideology not only for the strangulation of the Russian Revolution itself, but also for the planned counter-revolutionary liquidation of the world war as a whole. We have every reason to scrutinize the policy of the Bolsheviks in this regard very thoroughly. The ‘right of self-determination of nations’, coupled with the League of Nations and disarmament by the grace of Wilson,†† constitutes the battle-cry under which the coming confrontation between international socialism and the bourgeois world will be played out. It is evident that both the slogan in favor of self-determination and the nationalist movement as a whole—this latter currently posing the greatest threat to international socialism—have been extraordinarily reinforced precisely by the Russian Revolution and by the negotiations in Brest. It will be necessary to tackle this platform exhaustively. The Bolsheviks were caught on the barbs of this phraseology, bloodily lacerating themselves in the process: its tragic destiny within the Russian Revolution must serve the international proletariat as a cautionary example.

     The result of all of this was German dictatorship, which endured from the Brest peace treaty to the ‘supplementary treaty’!9 The 200 expiatory sacrifices in Moscow.10 This situation resulted in terror and the crushing of democracy.*


± A note added by Rosa Luxemburg in the top margin of the manuscript, without any indication as to where it was to be included in the text, reads as follows: ‘(Significance of the agrarian question. Already in 1905. Then, in the third Duma, the right-wing peasants! The peasant question and defense, the army)’.

1 Through the land decree issued on 8 November 1917 by the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, and according to the ‘peasant mandate’ contained in this decree, private ownership of the land was abolished and the property of landowners and lands owned through appanages, by monasteries and by the Church were expropriated without compensation. Land was distributed to working people according to the principle of equality in the use of the land—i.e. according to determinate standards regarding labor and usage. The form that the use of the land could take—whether this land use was to be undertaken by individual households, by the commune or by the artels (cooperative associations)—was left for each individual village to determine. Lands where agriculture operated in a highly developed form were not distributed; these passed over instead into the hands of the commune or of the State. Through these measures, the urgent needs of the masses of poor peasants were satisfied. Through this resolution of the agrarian question, the Bolsheviks ‘remained loyal to Marxism and never tried … to “skip” the bourgeois-democratic revolution’. At the same time, they thereby created ‘an agrarian system which [was] the most flexible from the point of view of the transition to socialism’ (V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 28, pp. 313–4).

† [des gesellschaftlichen Betriebes].

†† [den sozialen Gesamtbetrieb].

± A note added by Rosa Luxemburg in the left-hand margin of the manuscript, without any indication as to where it was to be included in the text, reads as follows: ‘Grain monopoly with premiums. Now, post festum, they are attempting to introduce class struggle into the village!’.

2  In the original manuscript: policy.

3 The Soviet government consistently upheld the Marxist principle of the right of self-determination of nations. It proceeded on the basis that the nations oppressed by Czarism could not be forcibly bound to Russia. A confederation could only be achieved via a voluntary alliance, since this was the only way that the basis for nationalist rabble-rousing and national strife could be eliminated. Apart from the national dimension of this question, the Bolsheviks also took into consideration the social dimension, namely 'the level of the historical development of the nation concerned—on the way from the Middle Ages to bourgeois democracy, and from bourgeois to Soviet or proletarian democracy' (V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 29, p. 128), since 'communism cannot be imposed by force' (V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 29, p. 175). The Bolsheviks supported the process of class differentiation within nations and strove as consistent internationalists for the alliance between the working people of all nations in the struggle against the bourgeoisie of all nations.

4 With P. N. Milyukov as foreign minister, the Provisional Government had continued the war and assured the Entente countries that it would fulfill all its obligations as a member of this alliance in order to bring the war to a 'victorious conclusion'. This policy was continued by the new government that was formed in May 1917 [see footnote 5 below] and in which A. F. Kerensky served as Minister of War and of the Navy; in July 1917 an offensive was launched with 60,000 casualties. The Bolsheviks opposed this offensive with their demand for an immediate peace without annexations (a term defined by the Bolsheviks as including the scenario in which Poland, Finland, Ukraine and other territories outside Greater Russia were forced to remain within the Russian Federation of States).

* Luxemburg refers to the governments of Miliukov and Kerensky were two regimes preceding that of the Bolsheviks during the earlier months of 1917, after the downfall of the Czar. Both of these governments attempted to continue the war for the imperialist objectives of the old Russian Empire and denied the right of the national minorities to separation from Russia.

5 As a consequence of its imperialist policy, the Provisional Government became embroiled in a crisis in April 1917. Demonstrations by workers and soldiers forced it to maneuver. In order to retain the counter-revolutionary character of the policy implemented by the government up to that point, a government coalition was formed in May 1917 in which representatives of the Socialist Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks also participated alongside representatives of the bourgeoisie.

6 During the peace negotiations in Brest-Litovsk, the Soviet government insisted on one of its fundamental principles, namely the right of self-determination of all belligerent countries, including the right of every nation to secede and form an independent state. This right was to be realized by means of a referendum conducted under specific conditions among the entire population of a given territory.

7 Given that, following the October Revolution, the Soviets constituted the political foundations of the state, the slogan calling for a constituent assembly to be convened—a constituent assembly representing the highest form of democratism within a bourgeois-democratic republic—was politically and practically obsolete. It was taken up by counter-revolutionary forces and used for the purposes of the struggle to eliminate Soviet power. However, since a large proportion of workers and peasants harbored constitutional illusions, the Council of People's Commissars decided to hold elections on the date previously set by the Provisional Government. Having won a majority of votes, the right-wing petty-bourgeois parties refused to discuss the program of soviet power (the Declaration of the Rights of the Working and Exploited People) on 5 January 1918, the day of the inauguration of the Constituent Assembly, and declined to vote on their stance with regard to the peace policy of the Soviet government on 6 January 1918, thus openly taking up a position against Soviet power. On 6 January 1918, the All-Russian Central Executive Committee passed a resolution dissolving the assembly. In his speech during this session, V.I. Lenin stated the following: 'The people wanted the Constituent Assembly summoned, and we summoned it. But they sensed immediately what this famous Constituent Assembly really was. And now we have carried out the will of the people, which is: All power to the Soviets' (V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 26, p. 440).

8 The nationalist Ukrainian Tsentralna Rada (Central Council of Ukraine) had signed a treaty with the Central Powers on 27 January 1918, even though its regime had already collapsed by this point and Soviet power had conquered nearly all of Ukraine. Germany gained the right to occupy Ukraine through the terms of the treaty and made claims for the ultimate annexation of Ukraine during the Brest-Litovsk negotiations on 27 and 28 January 1918.

* The manuscript speaks of Karbowentzen, which I take to be a Germanization of the Russian word for ‘silver ruble’, probably referring to a special Ukrainian coinage, and of ‘Universals’, the name applied to certain manifestoes or declarations of the Ukrainian Rada (national assembly).

† Schufterle is a character in Friedrich Schiller’s The Robbers, being a sadistic member of the band of robbers.

†† Fritz Reuter was a Northern German novelist and prominent contributor to Low German literature.

† Luxemburg presumably refers to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels here.

†† Luxemburg refers to US President Woodrow Wilson here.

9 The German-Russian Supplementary Treaty of 27 August 1918 stipulated that once the eastern borders of Estonia and Livonia had been determined, Germany would evacuate the territories occupied by it eastward of these borders. Germany was to undertake a progressive evacuation of the territory east of the Berezina in proportion with Soviet Russian compliance with the terms of the Financial Agreement, which determined the schedule of compensation payments that Soviet Russia was to make. Soviet Russia renounced sovereignty over Estonia, Livonia and Georgia. Under the terms of the German-Russian Financial Agreement of 27 August 1918, Russia was obliged to pay six billion marks to Germany.

10 On 6 July 1918, Left Socialist-Revolutionaries assassinated the German Ambassador, Count Wilhelm of Mirbach-Harff, thus initiating a putsch that aimed to overthrow the Soviet government. The uprising was crushed and hundreds of Socialist-Revolutionaries were arrested. ‘Everywhere it is essential to crush mercilessly these pitiful and hysterical adventurers who have become tools in the hands of counter-revolutionaries (…) Towards enemies we will behave like enemies’ (V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 27, p. 533).

* Six weeks after the signing of the Brest-Litovsk treaty, there was a codicil or supplement signed. The ‘two hundred expiatory sacrifices’ may refer to the execution of persons charged with complicity in the assassination of the German ambassador to Russia, Count von Mirbach. He was shot by members of the Russian Socialist-Revolutionary party, which had cooperated with the Bolsheviks until the signing of the Brest treaty and then went into opposition and tried by various means to prevent the signing of the treaty. From this time forward, the Russian government was a one-party government.


IV

These matters can now be examined more closely by means of a few examples.

     The famous dissolution of the Constituent Assembly in November 1917 played a prominent role in the policy of the Bolsheviks. This measure determined their further position, and to a certain extent marked a turning point in their tactics.

     It is a fact that, right up to their victory in October, Lenin and his comrades had vociferously called for a Constitutent Assembly to be convened, and that Kerensky’s government’s policy of using delaying tactics in this matter constituted one of the charges leveled by the Bolsheviks against this government—indeed, this policy formed the basis for some of their most violent attacks upon it. Indeed, Trotsky remarks in his interesting, brief text, From October to Brest-Litovsk, that the October Revolution represented the ‘deliverance of the Constituent Assembly’ and that of the revolution generally. ‘When we were declaring’, he continues, ‘that the road to the Constitutent Assembly was not by way of Tseretelli’s Preliminary Parliament, but by way of the seizure of the reigns of government by the Soviets, we were quite sincere’.1

     And yet, following these declarations, Lenin’s first step after the October Revolution was none other than to dissolve the very same Constituent Assembly that the revolution was to have ushered in. Which reasons dictated such a perplexing about-turn? Trotsky comments upon this issue extensively in the aforementioned text, and his arguments can be cited here:2

     [If the months preceding the October revolution were months of continuous gain in popular support for the Left—of a general increase in Bolshevik following among workers, soldiers and peasants—then this process was reflected within the party of Social Revolutionists in an increase of the left wing at the expense of the right. Nevertheless, on the party lists of the Social Revolutionists there was a predominance of three to one of old leaders of the right wing (…). To this should be added also the fact that the elections themselves were held during the first weeks after the October revolution. The news of the change traveled rather slowly from the capital to the provinces, from the cities to the villages. The peasantry in many places had but a very vague idea of what was taking place in Petrograd and Moscow. They voted for ‘Land and Liberty’, for their representatives in the land committees, who in most cases gathered under the banner of populism: but thereby they were voting for Kerensky and Avksentiev, who were dissolving the land committees, and arresting their members (…). This matter-of-fact phase of the question should give a very clear idea of the extent to which the Constituent Assembly lagged behind the course of political events and party groupings].

     This is all absolutely sound and most compelling. Yet one cannot help wondering how it could be that people as clever as Lenin and Trotsky failed to arrive at the most obvious conclusion from the above facts. Since the Constituent Assembly was elected long before the decisive turning point—the October Revolution*—and its composition did not reflect the new state of affairs, but was rather an image of a past that had been superseded, it necessarily followed that the course of action to be taken was to dissolve the obsolete—and thus stillborn—assembly and to call fresh elections for a new Constituent Assembly without delay! The Bolsheviks did not wish to entrust the fate of the revolution to an assembly that reflected Kerenksy’s Russia of yesterday, the period of vacillations and the coalition with the bourgeoisie—nor should they have done so. The only course open to them, then, was to replace the old assembly by immediately convening a new one that emanated from the renewed, progressive Russia.

     By contrast, Trotsky infers from the particular inadequacy of the Constituent Assembly that was convened in October that any popular representation whatsoever issuing from general elections during the revolution will be inadequate—he thus makes a generalization concerning popular representation from a particular instance:

     Owing to the open and direct struggle for power, the working people acquire much political experience in a short time and pass rapidly from one stage to the next in their development. The ponderous machinery of democratic institutions lags behind this evolution all the more, the bigger the country and the less perfect its technical apparatus.3

     Here Trotsky refers to the ‘machinery of democratic institutions’ per se. The first point to raise against this argument is that this evaluation of representative institutions expresses a somewhat schematic, rigid conception, one that is emphatically contradicted by the historical experience precisely of all revolutionary epochs. According to Trotsky’s theory, any elected assembly is nothing other than a permanent reflection of the intellectual constitution, political maturity and disposition of its electorate at the precise moment at which the latter went to the polls. The democratic body is thus permanently the mirror image of the masses on the day of the election, in the same way that Herschel’s night sky never shows us celestial bodies as they are, but rather as they were at the precise moment in which, from an immeasurable distance, they dispatched their emissaries of light toward Earth. Any living, intellectual connection, any lasting interaction between those elected and the electorate is denied here.

     Yet all historical experience utterly contradicts this! Such experience demonstrates the contrary, namely that the vibrant atmosphere of the popular mood continuously radiates around the representative bodies, permeates them and gives them direction. How else could it be that at times in each bourgeois parliament—whenever there are rumblings in the factories, workshops and streets—we come to witness the most amusing capers by ‘the people’s representatives’, who, suddenly inspired by a new ‘spirit’, strike completely unexpected chords, the most desiccated mummies occasionally behaving like youngsters, and the various little Scheidemanns** promptly discovering revolutionary tones resonating in their breasts?

     And yet we are supposed to believe that the enduring influence that the mood and political maturity of the masses exerts upon elected bodies would, in the very midst of revolution, dissipate when confronted by the rigid schema of party insignia and electoral lists? The very opposite is true! It is precisely the revolution whose scorching heat engenders that rarefied, vibrant, receptive political atmosphere in which the waves of popular mood and the pulsing beat of popular vitality have an instantaneous and most marvelous effect on representative bodies. It is precisely this phenomenon that gives rise to the familiar, dramatic scenes from the initial stage of all revolutions, in which old, reactionary or extremely moderate parliaments elected through limited suffrage under the ancien régime suddenly become heroic advocates of the revolution, the embodiment of its Sturm und Drang. The classic example of this is of course the famous ‘Long Parliament’ in England, which, having been elected and convened in 1642, sat for seven years and reflected within itself all the swings in the popular mood, in political maturity, in class differentiation and in the progress of the revolution toward its climax, from the initial submissive skirmishes with the Crown under a ‘Speaker’ who remained on his knees right up to the abolition of the House of Lords, the execution of Charles I and the proclamation of the Republic.

     And was not the same wonderful transformation repeated in the French Estates General,4 in the parliament elected by census suffrage under Louis Philippe? Indeed—to cite a most recent striking example that is so close to Trotsky—was it not also repeated in the Fourth Russian Duma, which, having been elected under the most draconian rule of the counter-revolution in the year of salvation 1912,5 suddenly sensed the lammas shoots of the coming insurrection in February 1917, and became the point of departure for the revolution?*

     All of this demonstrates that there is a powerful corrective to the ‘ponderous machinery of democratic …’;6 this corrective consists precisely in the living movement of the masses, in the unrelenting pressure that this movement exerts. Furthermore, the more democratic the institution, and the more vibrant and powerful the pulse of the political life of the masses, the more immediate and precise is their influence—despite rigid party insignias, outdated electoral lists, etc. To be sure, every democratic institution has its constraints and inadequacies, which it undoubtedly shares with all human institutions. Yet the remedy that Trotsky and Lenin have discovered—the elimination of democracy as such—is worse than the evil that it is supposed to prevent, for it occludes the very living source from which alone any correction of all the deficiencies inherent within social institutions can emanate. This source is none other than the active, uninhibited, vigorous political life of the broadest masses of the people.

     Let us take another striking example, namely the franchise developed by the Soviet government.7 It is not completely clear which practical significance is attached to this franchise. From Trotsky’s and Lenin’s critique of democratic institutions it can be seen that, on principle, they reject popular representation on the basis of general elections, preferring instead a system founded upon the soviets alone. This being so, it is in fact unclear why a system of universal suffrage should have been developed at all. To my knowledge, this system of suffrage has not been implemented in any way; there has been no mention of elections to any kind of popular representative body on such a basis. A more likely hypothesis is that it has remained a mere theoretical product of the conference room, as it were. Yet in itself it constitutes a remarkable product of the Bolshevik theory of dictatorship. Each system of suffrage, in common with all political rights as such, is not to be measured against any given abstract schemas of ‘justice’ or similar bourgeois democratic phraseology, but should rather be evaluated with regard to the social and economic relations to which it is tailored. The system of franchise elaborated by the Soviet government was in fact devised for the purposes of the period of transition from bourgeois-capitalist society to the socialist form of society—i.e. the period of the proletarian dictatorship. In accordance with the interpretation of this dictatorship advocated by Lenin and Trotsky, the right to vote is only granted to those who live by their own labor, being denied to everyone else.

     Now it is clear that such a franchise only makes sense in a society that is also economically capable of granting all those that wish to work an adequate standard of living—one that is worthy of civilization—on the basis of their own labor. Is this true of contemporary Russia? Given the tremendous difficulties with which Soviet Russia has to contend, cut off as it is from the world market and from its most important sources of raw materials, and given the universal, dreadful disruption to economic life and the abrupt upheaval in relations of production as a result of the revolution in property relations in agriculture, industry and commerce—given all these circumstances, it is obvious that innumerable livelihoods have been suddenly uprooted and catapulted from their normal course, the individuals concerned having no objective possibility of finding any use for their labor power within the economic mechanism. This obtains not only for the class of capitalists and large-scale landowners, but also for the broad stratum of the middle classes and even for the working class itself. It is a fact that the contraction in industry has caused a massive exodus of the urban proletariat to the countryside in order to search for employment in agriculture. In such circumstances, a political franchise that has the general compulsion to work as an economic precondition is an utterly incomprehensible provision. It is supposed to tend toward disenfranchising the exploiters alone. And while productive labor power is being uprooted en masse, the Soviet government finds itself conversely compelled in many cases to cede national industry to former capitalist proprietors on lease, as it were. Likewise, the Soviet government also found itself obliged in April 1918 to strike a compromise with bourgeois consumer cooperative societies. Furthermore, the Soviet government has had no option but to engage bourgeois experts as consultants. Another consequence of this situation is that increasing strata of the proletariat are maintained by the state, out of public funds, as Red Guards, etc. In reality, the system of franchise elaborated by the Soviet government has left broad and increasing strata of the petty bourgeoisie and the proletariat without rights, while the economic organism provides no means for them to comply with the compulsion to work.

     This is an incongruity that qualifies the Soviet franchise as a utopian product of fantasy, one that is detached from social reality. And precisely for this reason it fails to constitute a serious instrument for proletarian dictatorship.±

     When, in what was a rebellion against the workers’ government, the entire middle class, the bourgeois and petty bourgeois intelligentsia boycotted the Soviet government for months on end following the October Revolution, crippling railway, postal and telegraph communications as well as the education system and the administrative apparatus, it was of course necessary to use all manner of measures to exert pressure upon this class and to smash its resistance with an iron fist. Such measures included the withdrawal of political rights and of economic means of existence. This simply represented an expression of socialist dictatorship, which cannot shirk from deploying its power in order to enforce or prevent determinate measures in the interests of the whole. By contrast, a system of franchise that pronounces a general disenfranchisement upon broad strata of society and places them outside the framework of society politically, while it is incapable of accommodating them within this framework economically (i.e. a system of franchise that enacts disenfranchisement not as a concrete measure for a concrete purpose, but rather as a general rule of lasting effect)—such a system of franchise is no necessary feature of dictatorship: on the contrary, it represents an unviable improvisation.±±*

     Yet the question is not exhausted by the Constituent Assembly and the system of franchise: also at issue was the abolition of further important democratic guarantees—i.e. the guarantees of a healthy public sphere and of the political activity of the working masses. These guarantees consisted in the freedom of the press, the right of association and of assembly; now that these have been abolished, all opposition to the Soviet government has effectively been outlawed.8 Trotsky’s line of argument (referred to above) regarding the unwieldiness of democratic electorates is far from being sufficient in order to justify these infringements. On the contrary, it is a patent and indisputable fact that without a free, untrammeled press, without an unimpeded right of association and assembly, rule by broad masses of the people is completely unthinkable.

     Lenin states that the bourgeois state is an instrument for the oppression of the working class, and the socialist state an instrument for the suppression of the bourgeoisie. He argues that the socialist state is to a certain extent merely the inversion of the capitalist state. This simplified conception disregards what is most essential here: bourgeois class rule requires no political training or education of the entire mass of the people, or at least not beyond certain narrowly drawn boundaries. For proletarian dictatorship, by contrast, such education is its very life element, the air without which it would not be able to exist.

     ‘Owing to the open and direct struggle for power …’.9 Here Trotsky contradicts himself and his own friends within the Party. Precisely because Trotsky’s statement holds true, the Bolsheviks have, by stifling public life, occluded the source of political experience and increasing development. Alternatively, it would have to be surmised that such experience and development were necessary up to the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks, by which point they had reached their zenith, and that they have become superfluous from that point on. (Lenin’s speech: Russia is won for socialism!!!).10

     In reality, the reverse is true! It was precisely the colossal tasks that the Bolsheviks took on with such courage and resolve that required the most intensive political training of the masses and the greatest accumulation of experience.±

     The tacit presupposition underlying the theory of dictatorship as formulated by Lenin and Trotsky is that the revolutionary party has in its pocket a ready-made formula for socialist transformation, and that this formula merely needs to be assiduously implemented. This is unfortunately—or perhaps, fortunately—not the case. Far from being an aggregation of ready-made prescriptions that have merely to be applied, the practical realization of socialism as an economic, social and legal system is something that lies in the mists of the future. What we possess in our program amounts to no more than a few major signposts that indicate the general direction in which to identify the measures that are to be taken, and these indications are predominantly of a negative character at that. We know approximately what we have to eliminate at the very outset in order to clear the path for the socialist economy; by contrast, there is no socialist party program nor any socialist textbook that can instruct us as to the quality of the innumerable concrete measures, both major and minor, that are needed in order to introduce basic socialist features into the economy, the legal system and all social relations. This constitutes no defect; on the contrary, it is precisely herein that the advantage of scientific vis-à-vis utopian socialism consists. The socialist social system shall—and can only—be a historical product: it is born of its own school of experience, in the hour of fulfillment; it emerges from the becoming of living history. Furthermore, just like organic nature (of which it ultimately forms a part), this living history has the alluring habit of always producing, alongside any real social need that it engenders, the means to the satisfaction of such need: it generates problems and their solution simultaneously. Yet if this is the case, then it is evident that by its very nature, socialism cannot be imposed—it cannot be introduced by ukase. It has as its prerequisite a series of coercive measures—against property, etc. The negative—the dismantling of what exists—can be decreed; the positive cannot. It is a terra incognita. A thousand problems. Experience alone is capable of making corrections and opening up new paths. Uninhibited, effervescent life alone fashions a thousand new forms and improvisations, contains creative power, and corrects all mistakes. The public life of states where freedom is restricted is so meager, so miserable, so schematic and so sterile precisely because by excluding democracy, it occludes the living source of all intellectual wealth and progress. (Proof of this: the year 1905 and the period from February to October 1917). In these cases, this occurred on a political level; the same applies to the economic and social spheres. The entire mass of the people must participate in public life. Otherwise socialism is merely decreed, imposed from the conference table of a dozen intellectuals.

     Public control is indispensable. Otherwise the exchange of experiences remains restricted to the closed circle of officials in the new government. Corruption is then inevitable. (Lenin’s words, Bulletin no. 36).11 The practice of socialism requires a complete intellectual revolution in the masses, who have been degraded by centuries of bourgeois class domination. Social instincts in place of egoistic ones, mass initiative in place of lethargy, idealism that provides sustenance through all kinds of suffering, etc., etc. No one knows this better, describes it more penetratingly, or repeats it more persistently than Lenin.± He errs completely in the means that he employs, however. Decrees, the dictatorial powers of factory supervisors, draconian punishments, the reign of terror—these are all mere palliatives. The only way to a renaissance is the school of public life itself, the most unrestricted and broadest democracy, public opinion. By contrast, the very reign of terror itself has a demoralizing effect.

     If all this ceases to exist, what remains in reality? In place of representative bodies constituted by general popular elections, Lenin and Trotsky have installed the soviets as the only true representation of the working masses. Yet with the stifling of political life in the country as a whole, vitality within the soviets will also necessarily tend to wane. Without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of the press and of assembly, without a free struggle of opinions, vitality withers away in each public institution—it becomes a pseudo-vitality in which bureaucracy is the only remaining active element. Public life gradually falls into a slumber, a few dozen party leaders with inexhaustible energy and boundless idealism direct and govern; among the latter, a dozen outstanding minds are in reality the ones that lead, and an elite from within the working class is occasionally mustered in order to applaud the speeches of the leaders and to show unanimous approval for the resolutions drafted by them. This is basically a clique economy—a dictatorship to be sure, but not the dictatorship of the proletariat: instead it is the dictatorship of a handful of politicians, i.e. dictatorship in the bourgeois sense, in the sense of Jacobin rule (as exemplified by the extension of the interval between each Congress of Soviets from three to six months!). Worse still: such conditions will necessarily lead to a barbarization of public life: attempted assassinations, the execution of hostages, etc. This is an all-powerful, objective law that no party can circumvent.

     The basic error within Lenin and Trotsky’s theory is that, just like Kautsky, they counterpose dictatorship to democracy. Both the Bolsheviks and Kautsky pose the question in terms of ‘dictatorship or democracy’. Kautsky naturally decides in favor of democracy—more accurately, in favor of bourgeois democracy, precisely because he presents this as the alternative to socialist revolution. Conversely, Lenin and Trotsky resolve in favor of dictatorship in contradistinction to democracy, and thus in favor of the dictatorship of a handful of persons—i.e. bourgeois dictatorship. These are two opposing poles that are equally far removed from genuine socialist politics. When it seizes power, the proletariat must ignore Kautsky’s advice: it cannot renounce socialist revolution in order merely to commit itself to democracy under the pretext of the ‘country’s immaturity’: to do so would be to betray itself, the International and the revolution. It ought to—or rather, it must—begin immediately to take socialist measures in the most vigorous, unrelenting and ruthless fashion: it must exercise dictatorship, but dictatorship of the class, not of a party or clique, where dictatorship of the class signifies a dictatorship exercised within the broadest public sphere, with the most active, uninhibited participation of the popular masses, and within unrestricted democracy. ‘As Marxists, we have never been idol-worshippers of formal democracy’, writes Trotsky.12 It is certainly true that we have never been idol-worshippers of formal democracy. Nor have we ever been idol-worshippers of socialism or Marxism. Does it follow from this that we can also, à la Cunow, Lensch and Parvus, cast socialism or Marxism into the lumber room when it becomes inconvenient for us? Trotsky and Lenin are the living negation of such an option. That we have never been idol-worshippers of formal democracy merely means that we always distinguish the social core from the political form of bourgeois democracy, we have always revealed the bitter core of social inequality and lack of freedom beneath the sweet hull of formal equality and freedom—not, however, in order to discard this hull; instead we have done so in order to spur the working class not to content itself with this mere husk, but rather to conquer political power so as to fill it with a new social content. It is the historic task of the proletariat, when it comes to power, to create socialist democracy in place of bourgeois democracy—not to eliminate democracy altogether. Yet socialist democracy is not something that only begins in the Promised Land, once the substructure—the socialist economy—has been established; it does not come as a ready-made Christmas present for the obedient populace who, in the interim, have loyally supported the handful of socialist dictators. Socialist democracy commences simultaneously with the dismantling of class domination and the construction of socialism. It begins at the very moment of the seizure of power by the socialist party. It is nothing other than the dictatorship of the proletariat.

     Yes indeed, dictatorship! However, this dictatorship consists in the manner in which democracy is applied, not in its elimination; it consists in vigorous, resolute interventions that impinge upon the vested rights and economic relations of bourgeois society: the socialist revolution cannot be realized without such interventions. Yet such a dictatorship must be the work of the class, and not of a small leading minority acting in the name of the class—i.e. it must proceed at every step from the active participation of the masses; it must remain under the immediate influence of the latter, under the control of the entire public sphere; it must emanate from the burgeoning political schooling of the popular masses.

     The Bolsheviks would also have proceeded precisely in this way, had they not been afflicted by the dreadful compulsion of the world war, German occupation and all the associated, abnormal difficulties that were inevitably bound to distort any socialist policy, no matter how imbued with the best intentions and finest principles.

     This is glaringly demonstrated by the Soviet government’s abundant use of terror, particularly in the most recent period prior to the collapse of German imperialism and following the assassination of the German Ambassador. The truism that revolutions are not baptized with rose water is in itself somewhat inadequate.

     Everything that is occurring in Russia is comprehensible and constitutes an inevitable chain of causes and effects, whose point of departure and keystone is the failure of the German proletariat and the occupation of Russia by German imperialism. To expect that Lenin and his comrades should have conjured up the finest democracy, the most exemplary dictatorship of the proletariat and a flourishing socialist economy in such conditions would be to demand superhuman feats from them. Through their resolute revolutionary stance, their exemplary drive and the force of their action, and their unswerving loyalty to international socialism, they have genuinely achieved all that was possible under such devilishly difficult conditions. The danger begins only where they make a virtue out of necessity by establishing a theory that sets in stone every detail of the tactics imposed upon them by such fatal conditions, and where they attempt to recommend to the international proletariat that it should emulate these as the paradigm of socialist tactics per se. In so doing, they cast a shadow over themselves completely unnecessarily, and conceal their genuine, undeniable historical achievements under a bushel of unavoidable missteps. Likewise, having fought and suffered for international socialism, they do it a disservice by attempting to store as new discoveries in its cumulative memory all the obliquities perpetrated under duress in a situation of emergency in Russia—obliquities that in the final analysis merely reflected the bankruptcy of international socialism in the present world war.

     Let German government-Socialists declaim that the rule of the Bolsheviks in Russia is a travesty of the dictatorship of the proletariat! This was, or is, true only because it was a product of the stance of the German proletariat, which itself was a travesty of socialist class struggle. We are all subject to the law of history, and it is only internationally that the socialist social order can be realized. The Bolsheviks have demonstrated that they could achieve everything that a genuine revolutionary party is capable of accomplishing within the limits of historical possibilities. They should not attempt to perform miracles. An exemplary and flawless proletarian revolution would be a miracle in a country that is isolated, exhausted by world war, throttled by imperialism and betrayed by the international proletariat. What is crucial is to distinguish the essential from the inessential, the core from the merely contingent in the politics of the Bolsheviks. In this last period, in which we face decisive, final struggles all over the world, the most important problem of socialism remains the burning question of the times; this is not a mere question of tactical detail: what is at issue is the proletariat’s capacity for action, the drive of the masses, and the will to power of socialism as such. In this context, Lenin and Trotsky and their friends were the first to lead the way, and to set an example for the proletariat—they remain to date the only ones who can proclaim, in the words of Hutten, ‘I dared!’.

     This is what is essential and enduring in the politics of the Bolsheviks. In this sense it is historically to their eternal credit that they have led the way for the international proletariat with the conquest of political power and by posing the realization of socialism as a practical problem, and that they have given a powerful impetus to the conflict between labour and capital throughout the world. In Russia, the problem could only be posed; it could not be solved there. And in this sense, the future everywhere belongs to ‘Bolshevism’.


1 Leon Trotsky, From October to Brest-Litovsk, Project Gutenberg, 2004, p. 153.

2 This quotation and references to Trotsky’s text are missing in the original manuscript. These have been included here within square brackets.

* Luxemburg is not quite correct. Elections for the Constituent Assembly were mostly arranged prior to the October Revolution, but the elections took place after October.

3 Trotsky 2004, p. 158.

** [Scheidemännchen] ‘Little Scheidemen’, a play on the name of the pro-war, government-Social-Democrat, Phillip Scheidemann.

Sturm und Drang, conventionally translated as ‘storm and stress’, but perhaps better rendered as ‘storm and drive’, was a proto-Romantic movement in German literature and music in the latter part of the 18th Century, with a particular focus on individual subjectivity and the free expression of extremes of emotion.

4 In the original manuscript: [Generalstaaten] ‘States General’.

5 In the original manuscript: 1909 (see Section II, footnote 1).

* It was this Fourth Duma which, after popular demonstrations in February 1917, sent two emissaries to the Czar to request his abdication.

6 Ellipsis in the original manuscript. The quotation reads: ‘the ponderous machinery of democratic institutions’ (Trotsky 2004, p. 158).

7 The constitution that was adopted on 10 July 1917 stipulated that the following citizens over the age of 18 years would have the right to vote and to stand as a candidate in elections irrespective of their creed, nationality or residential status: ‘All who have acquired the means of livelihood through labor that is productive and useful to society, and also persons engaged in housekeeping which enables the former to do productive work, i.e., laborers and employees of all classes who are employed in industry, trade, agriculture, etc., and peasants and Cossack agricultural laborers who employ no help for the purpose of making profits’. Furthermore, soldiers of the soviet army and citizens that had lost their capacity to work also had the right to vote. The franchise was denied to those who employed wage laborers or who lived from an income without doing any work, such as private merchants, members of the clergy, and former police officers. The question of the restriction of the franchise was ‘a nationally specific and not a general question of dictatorship’. In this regard, it was necessary to take in to account ‘the specific conditions of the Russian revolution and the specificpath of its development’. The restriction of the franchise ‘is not absolutely necessary for the exercise of the dictatorship, it is not an indispensable characteristic of the logical concept “dictatorship”’ (V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 28, p. 256).

† [Mittelstand] This term is used in two different senses: a) as a collective noun grouping small- and medium-scale enterprises (usually in Germany); b) in a sociological sense, denoting the middle classes. Here it would seem that the latter corresponds to Luxemburg’s intended meaning.

± A note added by Luxemburg in the left-hand margin, without any indication as to where it was to be included in the text, reads as follows: ‘An anachronism, an anticipation of the legal situation that will only obtain when the socialist economic basis for it is already given—this is not the case in the period of transition corresponding to proletarian dictatorship’.

±± A note added by Luxemburg in the left-hand margin, without any indication as to where it was to be included in the text, reads as follows: ‘Both Soviets and a Constituent Assembly based on universal suffrage as backbone’. A note found on a loose, unnumbered sheet of paper reads as follows: ‘The Bolsheviks labeled the Soviets as reactionary, because peasants (peasants’ and soldiers’ delegates) constituted a majority within them. Once the Soviets had placed themselves on the side of the Bolsheviks, they then became the true representatives of popular opinion. Yet this sudden reversal was bound up only with peace and the agrarian question’.

* The following passage was found crossed out on an unnumbered loose sheet of paper in the manuscript: ‘The Bolsheviks designated the soviets as reactionary because their majority consisted of peasants (peasant and soldier delegates). After the Soviets went over to them, they became correct representatives of public opinion. But this sudden change was connected only with peace and land questions’.

8 For all working people, the right of freedom of the press and those of freedom of assembly and association were anchored in the constitution of the Soviet power: ‘Proletarian democracy suppresses the exploiters, the bourgeoisie—and is therefore not hypocritical, does not promisethem freedom and democracy—and gives the working people genuine democracy. Only Soviet Russia has given the proletariat and the whole vast labouring majority of Russia a freedom and democracy unprecedented, impossible and inconceivable in any bourgeois democratic republic, by, for example, taking the palaces and mansions away from the bourgeoisie (without which freedom of assembly is sheer hypocrisy), by taking the print-shops and stocks of paper away from the capitalists (without which freedom of the press for the nation’s labouring majority is a lie)’ (V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 28, p. 108).

† Lenin argues to this effect in ‘The State and Revolution: The Marxist Theory of the State and the Tasks of the Proletariat in the Revolution’ (V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 25, pp. 385–497).

9 Ellipsis in the original manuscript. The full quotation reads as follows: ‘Owing to the open and direct struggle for power, the working people acquire much political experience in a short time and pass rapidly from one stage to the next in their development’ (Trotsky 2004, p. 158).

10 See footnote 11, below.

± A note added by Luxemburg in the left-hand margin, without any indication as to where it was to be included in the text, reads as follows: ‘Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for members of the Party—however numerous these may be—is no freedom at all. Freedom is always only freedom for those who think differently. Not on account of a fanaticism that upholds ‘justice’; rather because all that is instructive, wholesome and purifying in political freedom depends on this essence, whose effect is negated when ‘freedom’ becomes a privilege’.

† A ukase was a decree issued by the Czar in Imperial Russia.

11 In the original manuscript Luxemburg gives an erroneous reference here (Bulletin no. 29). The article Nach der russischen Revolution [‘After the Russian Revolution’] was published in Mitteilungs-Blatt des Verbandes der sozialdemokratischen Wahlvereine Berlins und Umgegend, [Bulletin of the Federation of the Social-Democratic Electoral Associations of Berlin and Surrounding Areas], no. 36, of 8 December 1918. It contains a very exhaustive reproduction—in parts, word for word—of the text ‘The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government’ (V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 27, pp. 235–77), in which Lenin expounds the difficulties of development in Soviet Russia after the victory of the October Revolution, and sets out the tasks for the period of transition from the capitalist to the socialist social order, the function of the new state power in the struggle for the development of the economy and for protection against counter-revolution, corruption and sabotage.

± A note added by Luxemburg in the left-hand margin, without any indication as to where it was to be included in the text, reads as follows: ‘Lenin’s speech on discipline and corruption. Anarchy will also be inevitable here and everywhere else. A lumpen proletarian element is inherent within bourgeois society and cannot be separated from it. Evidence: 1) East Prussia, the ‘Cossack’ depredations; 2) The general outbreak of robbery and theft in Germany (‘racketeering’, postal and railway personnel, police, complete blurring of the boundaries between the well-ordered society and the penitentiary); 3) The rapid lumpenization of labor union leaders. Draconian measures of terror are powerless against this. On the contrary, they corrupt further. The only antidote: idealism and social activity of the masses, unrestricted political freedom’.

Luxemburg added the following elaborations on a loose sheet of paper, without any indication as to where they were to be included in the text: ‘The struggle against the lumpen proletariat forms a highly important problem in its own right in every revolution. In Germany and elsewhere we will also have to confront this problem. The lumpen proletarian element is deeply inherent within bourgeois society, not only as a particular stratum (as a social waste-product that swells to enormous proportions particularly in times when the walls of the social order are collapsing), but also as an integrating element within society as a whole. Events in Germany—and to a greater or lesser degree in all other states—have demonstrated how all strata of bourgeois society succumb to lumpenization. The gradations between commercial price gouging, szlachta­-style racketeering [the szlachta was a class of Polish minor nobility, its members often without means—translator’s note], fraudulent commercial operations, adulteration of foodstuffs, swindling, embezzlement by officials, theft, burglary and robbery have become so fluid that the boundary between the respectable citizenry and the penitentiary has vanished. This is a repetition of the same phenomenon whereby bourgeois dignitaries regularly undergo a rapid lumpenization when they are transplanted to an alien social soil in an overseas colonial setting. When conventional constraints and the pillars of morality and right are stripped away, bourgeois society, whose innermost vital law represents the most profound immorality (i.e. the exploitation of human beings by human beings), succumbs immediately and unrestrainedly to simple lumpenization. The proletarian revolution will have to struggle everywhere against this enemy, this instrument of counter-revolution.

And yet, in this relation too, terror is a blunt, or indeed a double-edged, sword. The most draconian martial law is impotent against outbreaks of lumpen proletarian malignancy. Indeed, each lasting state of emergency leads inexorably to despotism, and each despotism has a depraving effect on society. Here too, the only effective means at the disposal of the proletarian revolution consist in radical measures of a political and social nature, the most rapid transformation of the social guarantees of the livelihoods of the masses and the fomenting of revolutionary idealism, which can only be sustained by the intensively active life of the masses within a context of unrestricted political freedom.

Just as the free action of sunrays constitutes the most effective, purifying and healing remedy against infectious illnesses and pathogens, so too the only healing and purifying sun is the revolution itself, its principle of renewal. This principle consists in the intellectual life, the activity and the self-responsibility of the masses, such that the form taken by the revolution consists in the broadest political freedom.

12 Trotsky 2004, p. 157.

† ‘On either side harm must be done before good can accrue—revolutions are not to be made with rose water’ (Lord Byron, letter dated 3 October 1819, Byron’s Letters and Journals: A New Selection, edited by Richard Lansdown, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015, p. 338).



First Published: 1922 by Paul Levi according to the handwritten manuscript from Rosa Luxemburg’s literary estate. An unfinished manuscript reproduced from a photocopy of the original.

Numbered footnotes are from Rosa Luxemburg, Gesammelte Werke, Band 4 (6. überarbeitete Auflage), Dietz Verlag, Berlin: 2000.

Translated by Nicholas Gray.