A Daring Game*

Rosa Luxemburg on 24 November 1918

From the Kreuz-Zeitung to the Vorwärts, the German press echoes defamations against "terror," "putschism," "anarchy," "dictatorship."

     Quis tulerit Gracchos de seditione querentes? Who is not moved when the capitol guardians of bourgeois anarchy, when those who have turned Europe into a heap of rubble in four years shout about the "anarchy" of the proletarian dictatorship?

     In order to protect the palladium of "order": private property and class rule, the owning classes, - who in a thousand years of history, in the slightest rebellion of their slaves, did not shy away from any act of violence or infamy, - they have since then cried out over violence and terror – of the slaves. The Thiers and Cavaignac, who killed tens of thousands of Parisian proletarians, men, women, and children in the June slaughter of 1848, filled the world with howling about the alleged "atrocities" of the Paris Commune.

     The Reventlow, Friedberg, Erzberger, who, without batting an eyelid, drove one and a half million German men and young men to the slaughter - for Longwy and Briey, for the sake of new colonies -, the Scheidemann-Ebert, who granted all means for four years for the greatest bloodletting humanity has experienced, they are now shouting in a hoarse chorus about "terror", about the alleged "reign of terror" threatened by the dictatorship of the proletariat!

     The gentlemen may leaf through their own history.     

     Terror and reign of terror played a very specific role in the bourgeois revolutions. In both the Great French Revolution and the Great English Revolution, the execution of the king was the break with feudalism in world history, a necessary act of self-understanding of the up-and-coming bourgeois society, which had only spontaneously worked its way up to the harsh opposition to the old regiment in the course of the revolution. In the lightning of the executioner's hatchet over the head of Karl Stuart and the guillotine over the bacon head of the Bourbons, the bourgeois society itself, which had entered the revolution unsuspectingly, shone its own irreconcilable contrast to the old feudal rule.

     The Jacobins' regiment of terror in France was nothing more than a desperate attempt by the radical petty bourgeoisie to take up and assert its permanent rule in France at a time when the upper bourgeoisie was historically called to rule throughout Europe; an attempt to nail the great revolution to its ideological phrase, to formal freedom, equality, and fraternity, - against the real content of this phrase: the takeover of industry and finance capital; an attempt by the masses of the petty bourgeoisie, to cling to power and to make a transitional phase of revolution their ultimate goal, their phrase their content, their means their purpose, after their role as rams had played out to secure the necessary minimum gains of the bourgeois revolution. Jacobin terror was thereby also a means of self-understanding of the classes in bourgeois society and their separation from one another.

     In a word: in the bourgeois revolutions, terror and reign of terror were a means of destroying historical illusions or defending hopeless interests against the stream of history.

     Thanks to the theory of scientific socialism, the socialist proletariat enters its revolution without all illusions, with prepared insight into the final consequences of its historical mission, into the irreconcilable opposites, into mortal hostility to bourgeois society as a whole. It enters the revolution, not to chase utopian fantasies against the course of history, but to accomplish, based on the iron engine of development, what is the commandment of the historical hour: to make socialism an action. As a mass, as the vast majority of the working people, the socialist proletariat is to fulfill its historic mission.

     It, therefore, does not need to destroy its own illusions through bloody acts of violence, to dig an abyss between oneself and bourgeois society. What it needs is all the political power in the state, the use of this power to ruthlessly abolish capitalist private property, wage slavery, bourgeois class rule, to build a new, socialist social order.

     But there is someone else today who urgently needs terror, reign of terror, anarchy; these are the bourgeois gentlemen, these are all parasites of the capitalist economy, trembling for their possessions and privileges, for profits and sovereign rights. These are the ones who blame the socialist proletariat for the fictitious anarchy, false coups, just to unleash real coups, to unleash real anarchy through their agents at the convenient moment, to strangle the proletarian revolution, to let the socialist dictatorship sink in chaos and to build the class dictatorship of capital forever on the ruins of the Revolution.

     The brain and heart of today's agitation against the revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat is capital and its struggle for existence. Its hand and tool is the dependent social democracy. The employment has outlived the revolution, the rule, as well as the domestic, have only red badges stapled to the clothes.

     The central organ of dependent social democracy, the Vorwärts, is now the central organ of the counterrevolutionary hunt against the Spartacus people.

     The dependent city commander of Berlin1 arms the security guards with sharp bullets against fictitious "attacks" by the Spartacus people. The satellites of Wels and comrades incite the most unclear elements among the soldiers against Liebknecht and his friends. Threatening letters, warnings come to us all the time.

     We watch the spectacle from the historical point of view with a cold-blooded smile. We see through the game, the actors, the direction and the roles.

     But what, one might think, the masses of revolutionary proletarians would do if the agitation achieved its purpose, if, for example, a hair on the head of someone they had taken out of prison on their arms and recognized as the called leader was to be harmed? Then who would have the power to preach cold-bloodedness to these masses?

     You bourgeois gentlemen and your servants of dying capital of the Vorwärts, you speculate like bankrupts on the last card: on the ignorance, on the political inexperience of the masses. You lurk for the moment; you crave the laurels of the Thiers, Cavaignac, and Galliffet.

     It's a daring game. The day and hour belong to the dictatorship of the proletariat, to socialism. Those who oppose the tank [Sturmwagen] of socialist revolution will remain on the ground with their limbs shattered.

1 Otto Wels had been appointed city commander of Berlin.

This article first appeared in Die Rote Fahne (Berlin), No. 9 from November 24, 1918.

Quotes taken from Rosa Luxemburg’s Gesammelte Werke, Vol. 4, pp. 411-14.

* This is a draft version translated by Manuela Koelke. The final translation will appear in the publication of the fifth volume of The Complete Works of Rosa Luxemburg, edited by Peter Hudis and forthcoming in 2020 from Verso Books with the support of the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung.