Der Anfang*

Rosa Luxemburg on 18 November 1918

The revolution has begun. Not rejoicing over what has been achieved, not triumph over the defeated enemy is in place, but strictest self-criticism and iron cohesion of energy to continue the work that has been begun. For what has been achieved is small, and the enemy is not crushed down.

     The monarchy has been swept away, the supreme power of government has passed into the hands of representatives of workers and soldiers. But the monarchy was never the real enemy; it was only a facade, it was the figurehead of imperialism. The Hohenzollern did not ignite the World War, set the world on fire in every corner and brought Germany to the edge of the abyss. Like every bourgeois government, the monarchy was the manager of the ruling classes. The imperialist bourgeoisie, the capitalist class rule - that is the criminal that must be held responsible for the genocide.

     The abolition of the capital rule, the realization of the socialist social order - this and nothing less is the historical theme of the present revolution. A mighty work that won’t be accomplished in no time at all by a few decrees from above, that will only be brought into being by the conscious action of the masses of workers in town and country, that can only be brought happily into port by the highest spiritual maturity and inexhaustible idealism of the masses of people through all storms.

     From the goal of the revolution will result clearly its path, from its task will result the method. All power into the hands of the working masses, into the hands of the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils, securing the revolutionary work from its lurking enemies: this is the guideline for all measures of the revolutionary government.

     Every step, every action of the government would have to point in this direction like a compass:

     Expansion and re-election of the local Workers' and Soldiers' Councils so that the first chaotic and impulsive gesture of their creation is replaced by a conscious process of self-understanding about the aims, tasks, and ways of the revolution;

     permanent meetings of these representatives of the masses and transfer of actual political power from the small Committee of the Board of Enforcement to the broader base of the Workers' and Soldiers' Council;

     convening of the Reich parliament of workers and soldiers as soon as possible to constitute the proletarians of all of Germany as a class, as a compact political power and to place them behind the work of the revolution as their protective army and their force;

     the immediate organization not of the "peasants," but of the rural proletarians and small farmers who, as a group, are still outside the revolution;

     formation of a proletarian Red Guard to constantly protect the revolution and formation of the worker's militia, to shape the entire proletariat into being ready to watch at all times;

     displacement of the appropriated organs of the absolutist military police state from the administration, judiciary, and army;

     immediate confiscation of the dynastic property and possessions as well as the large estate as a temporary, first measure to secure the food supply of the people, since hunger is the most dangerous ally of the counterrevolution;

     the immediate convening of the Workers' World Congress to Germany to sharply and clearly emphasize the socialist and international character of the revolution, for the future of the German revolution is anchored in the international, in the world revolution of the proletariat alone.

     We have only listed the first necessary steps. What is the current revolutionary government doing?

     It quietly leaves the state as an administrative organism from top to bottom in the hands of yesterday's supporters of the Hohenzollern absolutism and tomorrow's tools of counterrevolution;

     it convenes the Constituent National Assembly, thereby creating a bourgeois counterbalance to the representation of workers and soldiers, thereby shifting the revolution onto the tracks of a bourgeois revolution, makes the socialist goals of the revolution disappear;

     it does nothing to destroy the continued power of capitalist class rule;

     it does everything to reassure the bourgeoisie, to proclaim the holiness of property, to ensure the sanctity of the capital relationship;

     it allows the counterrevolution to continue at every turn, without appealing to the masses, without warning the people aloud. 

     Quiet! Order! Order! Quiet! So it echoes from all sides, from all rallies of the government, so the echo from all bourgeois camps rejoices. The nagging against the spectre of "anarchy" and "putschism", the well-known hell music of the bourgeois worried about safes, property, and profits, is the loudest note of the day, and the revolutionary workers’ and soldiers’ government - quietly tolerates this general march to the storm against socialism, yes, it participates in it with word and deed.  

     The conclusion of the first week of the revolution is: Essentially nothing has changed in the state of the Hohenzollern, the workers’ and soldiers’ government acts as deputy to the imperialist government, which has become bankrupt. All their actions are carried by the fear of the working masses. Before the revolution takes off, its only life force, its socialist and proletarian character, is made to disappear.

     Everything's all right. The reactionary state of the civilized world will not become a revolutionary people's state within 24 hours. Soldiers who killed revolutionary proletarians yesterday in Finland, Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States as gendarmes of reaction, and workers who let this happen quietly, have not become clearly aimed bearers of socialism in 24 hours.

     The image of the German Revolution corresponds to the inner maturity of German conditions. Scheidemann-Ebert are the appointed government of the German Revolution at its current stage. And the independents1 who believe they can make socialism together with Scheidemann-Ebert, who solemnly attest to those in "freedom" that together with them they form a "purely socialist government,"2 thus qualify themselves as the called co-sponsors of the company in this first provisional stage.

     But the revolutions do not stand still. Their law of life is rapid progress, growing beyond themselves. The first stage is already driven forward by its inner contradictions. The situation is understandable as a beginning, as a condition unsustainable in the long run. If the counterrevolution is not to gain the upper hand all along the line, the masses must be on guard.

     The beginning has been made. The rest is not in the hands of the dwarves who want to stop the course of the revolution and fall into the spokes of world history. The agenda of world history today is: achieving the final socialist goal. The German Revolution has come into the path of this shining star. It will continue to reach its goal step by step, through storm and urge, through struggle and agony and misery and victory.

     It must!


1 See p. 270, footnote 2.

2 See „An die Partei I“ (To the Party I) in Die Freiheit (Berlin). No. 1 from November 15, 1918.


First Published: Die Rote Fahne (Berlin), No. 3 from November 18, 1918.

Quotes taken from Rosa Luxemburg’s Gesammelte Werke, Vol. 4, pp. 397-400.

* 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.