Our Program and the Political Situation*

Rosa Luxemburg on 31 December 1918 afternoon

As we approach the task today of discussing and adopting our program,1 more lies behind this endeavor than the formal occurrence that we constituted a new, independent party yesterday, and that a new party officially has to adopt a program; great, historical processes lie behind the discussion of the program today, namely the fact that we stand at a moment in which the proletariat’s social-democratic, socialistic program has generally to be constructed on new foundations. Party comrades, this ties us together with the threads spun by Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto exactly seventy years ago. The Communist Manifesto treats socialism and the execution of socialist final goals, as you know, as the immediate task of the proletarian revolution. This was the basic approach taken by Marx and Engels in the 1848 Revolution, and the also approach that they saw as the foundation for proletarian action in an international sense. At that time both of them, together will all leading minds of the proletarian movement, that one was facing the immediate task of introducing socialism; this would merely entail carrying out the political revolution, and usurping political authority in the state, in order to immediately constitute socialism in flesh and blood. In the First Preface to the Communist Manifesto, from 1872, which was still signed jointly by Marx and Engels (printed in the K.M. edition of 1894), both of them state the following, regarding their work: “That passage,”—the end of Section II, i.e. the explication of practical measures for the application of socialism—“would, in many respects, be very differently worded today. In view of the gigantic strides of Modern Industry since 1848, and of the accompanying improved and extended organization of the working class, in view of the practical experience gained, first in the February Revolution, and then, still more, in the Paris Commune, where the proletariat for the first time held political power for two whole months, this program has in some details been antiquated. One thing especially was proved by the Commune, viz. that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.” ”2

            And how was that passage worded, which was then declared out-of-date? We can read that on page 23 of the Communist Manifesto3 as follows: “The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organized as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible. 

            Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions of bourgeois production; by means of measures, therefore, which appear economically insufficient and untenable, but which, in the course of the movement, outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old social order, and are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionizing the mode of production.

              These measures will, of course, be different in different countries. 

            Nevertheless, in most advanced countries, the following will be pretty generally applicable. 1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes. 

2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.

3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.

4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.

5. Centralization of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.

6. Centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.

7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.

8. Equal liability of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.

9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country.

10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labor in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, &c, &c.”4

            As you see, these are the same tasks, with a number of variations, that we are facing immediately today: the introduction and attainment of socialism. Seventy years of capitalist development lie between the time when the program was compiled and the present day; and historical dialectic has led us to the point, that we return today to the position, which Marx and Engels subsequently relinquished as being erroneous. They had, back then, good reason for relinquishing it as an error. The development of capital, which has occurred in the intervening period, has taken us to a point, where that which was error then has become truth today; and it is our   immediate task to day, to fulfill what Marx and Engels stood for in the year 1848. Between that point of development, the beginning, and our understanding and task today lies no less than the whole development—not merely of capitalism, but also of the socialist workers’ movement, and primarily that movement in Germany, as the leading country of the modern proletariat. This development has taken on a peculiar form. After Marx and Engels—affected by the disappointments of the 1848 Revolution—had relinquished their standpoint that the proletariat was immediately and directly capable of realizing socialism, social-democratic and socialist parties were formed in every country, which adopted a quite different standpoint. The daily small-scale struggle in political and economic fields was declared to be the immediate task, in order to train up the army of the proletariat, bit by bit, an army that would be called upon, when capitalist development had ripened to the point where socialism could be realized. This switch, this entirely different foundation for the socialist program, was gifted a very typical form, especially in Germany. As the authoritative source for Social Democracy in Germany up to its collapse on August 4 [TRANSLATOR’S INTERPOLATION: 1914], the Erfurt Program put forthcoming and so-called “minimum” tasks at the top of the agenda, with socialism itself located merely as a guiding star in the distance, as the final goal. What is decisive, however, is not what was written in the program, but rather the living interpretation of the program; and an important historical document of our workers’ movement was definitive in how the program was understood—namely that preface, which Friedrich Engels wrote in 1895 to The Class Struggles in France, [1848 to 1850]. Party comrades: I do not address this question out of mere historical interest, but treat it rather as an utterly current question, and a historical duty that we will have to face, by building our program today on the same foundations that once served Marx and Engels in 1848. With respect to the changes that historical developments have brought about in the intervening period, we have a duty to undertake a revision, consciously and with utter clarity, in opposition to the definitive understanding in German Social Democracy up until the collapse on August 4. This revision shall be officially undertaken here.

            Party comrades, how die Engels formulate the question in that famous preface to Marx’s The Class Struggles in France, which he wrote in the year 1895, i.e. after Marx’s death? First, reflecting right back to 1848, he demonstrated that the conviction that the socialist revolution is at hand is outworn. Then, he continues with his description: “History has proved us, and all who thought like us, wrong. It has made it clear that the state of economic development on the Continent at that time was not, by a long way, ripe for the removal of capitalist production; it has proved this by the economic revolution which, since 1848, has seized the whole of the Continent, has really caused big industry for the first time to take root in France, Austria, Hungary, Poland and, recently, in Russia, while it has made Germany positively an industrial country of the first rank—all on a capitalist basis, which in the year 1848, therefore, still had great capacity for expansion.”5

            He then sets out how everything has changed since that period, arriving at the question of what now are the tasks of the parties in Germany: “The war of 1870-71 and the defeat of the Commune had transferred the center of gravity of the European workers’ movement for the time being from France to Germany, as Marx foretold. In France, it naturally took years to recover from the bloodletting of May 1871. In Germany, on the other hand, where industry was, in addition, furthered (in positively hothouse fashion) by the blessings of the French billions and developed more and more quickly, Social Democracy experienced a much more rapid and enduring growth. Thanks to the understanding with which the German workers made use of the universal suffrage introduced in 1866, the astonishing growth of the Party is made plain to all the world by incontestable figures.”6

            Then follows the famous list, of how our vote grew from one Reichstag election to the next, into the millions, from which Engels draws the following conclusion: “With this successful utilization of universal suffrage, an entirely new mode of proletarian struggle came into force, and this quickly developed further. It was found that the state institutions, in which the rule of the bourgeoisie is organized, offer still further opportunities for the working class to fight these very state institutions. They took part in elections to individual diets, to municipal councils and to industrial courts; they contested every post against the bourgeoisie in the occupation of which a sufficient part of the proletariat had its say. And so it happened that the bourgeoisie and the government came to be much more afraid of the legal than of the illegal action of the workers’ party, of the results of elections than of those of rebellion.”7

            And here Engels adds an extended critique of the madness, which suggests that—inside the modern relations of capitalism—the proletariat can achieve anything at all, on the street and through the revolution. I believe that it is time, in the light of where we stand today, in the middle of the revolution, in a street revolution with all that pertains to that, time to confront the approach that was officially German Social Democracy’s bread and butter until the final hour, and which is responsible for us having experienced August 4, 1914. (Quite right!)

            I do not intend to say with that, that Engels made himself personally complicit in the whole course of developments in Germany; I’m merely saying: this is a classic, summarized document for the position, which was vitally alive in German Social Democracy, or rather: the position that killed it. This is the point, party comrades, at which Engels expounds—with all his specialized knowledge in the realm of military science—that it is pure madness to believe that the working people can carry out and win through street revolutions, in the context of the contemporary development of militarism, of industry, and of large cities. Counterposing the balance of forces in this way had two different results: firstly, the parliamentary struggle came to be seen as the opposite of the proletariat’s direct revolutionary action, and as being well-nigh the only means of class struggle. This critique issued into what we can call the pure form of “only-parliamentarism.” Secondly and in a peculiar fashion, that which is precisely the mightiest organization of the class state—militarism, the mass of proletarians stuffed into army uniforms—was perceived as immune from the start and not accessible to any form of socialist influence. And when the preface says it’s sheer foolishness to think the proletariat could ever successfully manage these machine guns and soldiers armed with the newest technical means of battle, in relation to the development today of huge armies, the preface is obviously working with the assumption that whoever is a soldier supports the ruling classes, from the start and forever. This mistake would be almost incomprehensible, when judged from the standpoint of our experience today, and coming from a man, who stood at the forefront of our movement, if we did not know under which circumstances the historical document under discussion was actually written. With all honor to our two great masters, and specifically to Engels, who died much later, and who honorably represented Marx’s positions, we must make clear that it is known that Engels wrote this preface under direct pressure from the parliamentary party, in the Reichstag of that day. That was in the period where, in Germany—after the Anti-Socialist-Laws had been dismantled at the start of the [TRANSLATOR’S INTERPOLATION: 18]90s—a strong leftist orientated, radical current had made itself noticed inside the German workers’ movement, which party comrades wished to see protected from being subsumed into a purely parliamentary struggle. In order to smash the radical elements theoretically, and to keep them down practically, and in order to cut them off from gaining recognition among the wide masses through the authority of our great teacher, Bebel and comrades—that was characteristic for our situation back then: the parliamentary party in the Reichstag decided, both intellectually and tactically, about the party’s aptitude and tasks—Bebel and comrades urged Engels—who lived abroad and who had to rely on their assurances—to write that preface, it now being of the most urgent necessity, to save the German workers’ movement from anarchistic derailments. And from this point on this apprehension really did dominate the deeds, but also the non-deeds, of German Social Democracy, up until the lovely incident on August 4, 1914. This was the proclamation of “Nothing-but-Parliamentarism.” Engels did not live to experience the practical consequences of this application of his preface and of his theory. I am convinced: if one knows the works of Marx and Engels, if one knows the vital and revolutionary, genuine, undistorted spirit, which breathes out of all their teachings and writings, then one must also be convinced that Engels would have been the first to have protested against this dissipation and ruination of the workers’ movement, which had already taken hold in Germany decades already before August 4—because August 4 did not fall on us out of the blue as an unwished twist, but was rather the logical consequence of that which we had experienced day by day and year by year before—(“quite right!”), that Engels, and Marx, if he had lived, would have been the first to protest this with all their power, and to heave the cart back with a mighty hand, so that it did not roll down into the swamp. But Engels died in the same year in which he wrote the preface. We lost him in the year 1895; since then, unfortunately, the theoretical leadership passed out of Engels’ hands and into Kautsky’s hands, in which we can experience the phenomenon that every rising against the “Just-Parliamentarism” stream—a rising occurring at every party conference, from the left, supported by a sometimes larger, sometimes smaller group of comrades, who battled tenaciously against this swamp spreading, the perilous consequences of which must be clear to all—that each rising of this kind would be stigmatized as being anarchism, anarcho-socialism, or at least anti-Marxism. Official Marxism was intended to serve as a cover for every settling of scores, for every deviation from the real, revolutionary class struggle, for every half-baked thing that damned German Social Democracy and the whole workers’ movement—including the trade unions—to waste away, in the framework of and on the soil of capitalist society: entirely without that serious aspiration of shaking up society, and of throwing it off the rails.

            Now, party comrades, we are experiencing a moment today in which we can say: we have returned to Marx and stand under his banner. When we declare in our program today that the proletariat’s immediate task is nothing less than—summarized in a few words—transforming socialism into truth and deed, and destroying capitalism root and branch, we stand on the same ground that Marx and Engels stood on in 1848, terrain that we have never, in principal, deviated from. Now we’ll see what true Marxism is and what this ersatz Marxism was (“Spot on!”), which made itself at home for so long in German Social Democracy. You can see, from the representatives of this kind of Marxism, where it has got itself today: supporters of, and adjuncts to, Ebert and David and their consorts.8 That’s where we see the official representatives of the doctrine, which presented itself as the true and unadulterated form of Marxism, for decades. No, Marxism does not lead to a place where we pursue counterrevolutionary politics alongside the Scheidemen.9 True Marxism also fights against those who attempt to falsify it, it digs like a mole among the foundations of capitalist society; and it has led us to a situation in which the best part of the German proletariat march under our flag, under the revolution’s coat-of-arms; and even on the other side, where the counterrevolution seems to rule, we have our supporters and our future battle comrades.

            Thus we stand, party comrades, here today, as I already mentioned, led here through the process of historical dialectic, and enriched by seventy years of fully concluded capitalist development, again on the spot on which Marx and Engels stood in 1848, as they unfurled the banner of international socialism for the first time. Back then, while checking over the errors and illusions of the year 1848, it was thought that the proletariat had an eternally long journey in front of them, until socialism could become reality. Of course, serious theoreticians have never been content with positing that any particular date for the breakdown of capitalism is obligatory and reliable. But, roughly speaking, it was imagined that a very long journey still lay ahead, and that was expressed in every line of that very preface, that Engels wrote in 1895. But now we can draw a conclusion about this calculation. Was it not, in comparison to the development of earlier class struggles, a very short period? Seventy years of large-scale capitalist development[10] have sufficed to bring us to a point, where we can start getting serious today about ridding the world of capitalism. And what’s more: not only are we capable of carrying out this task today, to do so is not merely our duty to the proletariat. Rather, solving this challenge is the only way whatsoever, of salvaging the existence of human society. (Vigorous applause.)

            Because, party comrades, what has this war left behind it of bourgeois society, except huge piles of ruins? Formally speaking, all means of production are still held in the hands of the ruling classes, along with very many means of power, with almost all determinative means of power: we’re under no illusions about that. But what they’re able to set in motion with these means—apart from convulsive attempts to re-establish exploitation through using blood baths—is nothing other than anarchy. They have reached the point that the dilemma that humankind faces today can be described as: either the fall into anarchy, or salvation through socialism. It is impossible for the bourgeois classes to use the results of the world war to find any kind of way out, on the terrain of their class supremacy and of capitalism. And thus it is come about, that we have pronounced the truth that precisely Marx and Engels [TRANSLATOR’S INTERPOLATION: communicated to us] for the first time as the scientific basis of socialism in that great charter, The Communist Manifesto:  Socialism will become a historical necessity, which we can experience today in the most exact meaning of the word. Socialism has become a necessity, not merely because the proletariat is no longer willing to live under the living conditions that the capitalist classes serve up to them, but also because, if the proletariat does not fulfill its class duties by realizing socialism, then we will all have to face ruination together. (Vigorous applause.)

            Now that, party comrades, is the general basis, on which our party program is constructed, which we are officially adopting today, and the draft of which you found out about in the pamphlet What are the aims of the Spartacus League? This program stands in conscious opposition to the standpoint on which the Erfurt Program has been based until today, in conscious opposition to the distinction made between the immediate, self-styled “Minimum Demands” for the political and economic struggle on the one hand, and the socialist final goal on the other, described as the Maximum Program. In conscious opposition to this, we choose to liquidate the results of the last seventy years of development, and especially the immediate result of the world war, by saying: there is no minimum and no maximum program for us, as it is all one and the same socialism: that is the minimum we have to push through in today’s world. (“Absolutely!”)

            I will not go into detail at present on individual measures, which we have laid before you in our draft program, because you have the possibility of taking up positions on each of these individually, and it would be a step too far, if we wished to discuss it in detail here. I see it as my task to trace and to articulate just the general, essential features, which differentiate our programmatic positioning from the soi-disant official German Social Democracy up until now. In contrast, I consider it more important and more urgent, that we reach agreement about how we should evaluate concrete circumstances, and about how we have to structure tactical challenges and practical solutions, which present themselves out of the political situation, out of the course of the revolution until now, and out of further, foreseeable directives. We intend to discuss the political situation in accordance with the understanding, which I have attempted to sketch—from the standpoint of the realization of socialism as the immediate task, which should light the way ahead for every other measure, and every other commentary.

            Comrades, our party conference today, which is, as I believe I may say with pride, the inaugural party conference of the only revolutionary socialist party of the German proletariat, this party conference is taking place, by coincidence, concurrent with—or rather, if I should express things correctly, not by coincidence—a turning point in the development of the German Revolution itself. One can claim that, with regard to the processes of the last few days, the start phase of the German Revolution has been concluded; that we now enter into a second, further stage of development; and that it is the duty of all of us—and, coevally, the source of a better, deeper understanding of the future—to practice self-criticism, to undertake a reflective, critical examination of what’s been achieved, what we’ve done, and what we’ve failed to do, in order to gain a handle on how we should proceed. We wish to cast a scrutinizing glance over the first, now concluded phase of the revolution!

            Its point of departure was November 9 [1918]. November 9 was a revolution full of shortcomings and weaknesses. Which is no surprise. It was the revolution that came after four years of war, after those four years in which the German proletariat—thanks to the work of Social Democracy and of the free trade unions in its education—displayed such a measure of shame and denial of their socialistic vocations, incomparable with the proletariat’s behavior in any other country. One cannot expect, standing on the ground of historical development—which is exactly what we do as Marxists and Socialists—that one could experience in that same Germany—which had offered us that horrific image of August 4, and the four, following years—a great revolution, conscious of class and of goal. And what we experienced on November 9, was three-quarters the breakdown of existing imperialism, and only one-quarter the victory of a new principal. (Agreement.) The moment had simply arrived, in which imperialism—walking like a giant on clay feet, and rotten inside—had to fall apart; and what resulted from that was a more or less chaotic and planless movement, with very little consciousness, in which the unifying tie and the constant, redemptive principle was summarized into just one slogan: build workers’ and soldiers’ councils. That’s the watchword of this revolution, given to it immediately by this particular imprint of proletarian and socialist revolution—despite all shortcomings and weaknesses of the first moment, and we should never forget, when they argue with us using their calumnies against the Russian Bolsheviks, to answer: where did you learn the ABC of your current revolution then? You fetched it from the Russians: the workers’ and soldiers’ councils (agreement); and those little folk— who see themselves as authorized, at the head of the German, soi-disant socialist government, to slyly murder the Russian Bolsheviks, hand in hand with the English imperialists—they also have their power, at least formally, from the workers’ and soldiers’ councils, and with that they must admit: the Russian Revolution was the instance, which first transmitted watchwords for the world revolution. We can say with certainty—and this follows, as a matter of course, from the whole situation—in whichever country the proletarian revolution breaks through after Germany, its first gesture will be to build workers’ and soldiers’ councils. (“Quite right!”)

            It is precisely in this that we have the unifying, international bond for our proceedings, this is the cue, which differentiates our revolution utterly from all earlier, bourgeois revolutions, and it is very characteristic for the dialectical contradictions, among which this revolution—as all revolutions incidentally—moves, that already on November 9, as it emitted its first cry, quasi the cry of its birth, it had already found the phrase that leads us forward into socialism: workers’ and soldiers’ councils, this phrase, that groups together everything. And the fact that the revolution instinctively found this phrase, despite it being still so backwards on November 9, that it nearly managed to let half of the means of power—which it had conquered on November 9—slip out of its hands on the second day after the revolution, because of all its shortcomings, weaknesses, and flaws in terms of its own initiative, and in terms of clarity regarding its aims. This demonstrates that on one hand, that the revolution today is placed under the superior law of historical necessity, which incorporates the surety that we will arrive at our goal step by step, despite all difficulties, entanglements, and our own infirmity. On the other hand, one must say, when one compares this clear slogan with the deficient practice, which has attached itself to it: these were simply the first childlike steps of the revolution, which still has more mighty things to achieve and a far way to go, to mature into a complete realization of its first slogans.

            Party comrades, the first phase from November 9 until the last few days has been characterized by illusions from all sides. The first illusion of the proletariat, and of the soldiers who made this revolution, was the illusion of unity under the banner of so-called socialism. What can be more characteristic for the revolution of November 9 than its first result, that elements reached the head of the movement, who only two hours before outbreak of the revolution considered it the duty of their office to agitate against the revolution (“Absolutely!”), to make it impossible: the Ebert-Scheidemann, along with Haase!11 The idea of uniting the various socialist currents under the general cheer for unity was the motto of the revolution on November 9—an illusion, which would revenge itself in blood, and which we have only now lived and dreamt to the end of, in the last few days; a self-deception, also practiced by Ebert-Scheidemann and the bourgeoisie—by all sides. Moreover, an illusion held onto by the bourgeoisie, in this phase now concluded, that they, through the Ebert-Haase combination, could rein in the so-called socialist government—in reality, the proletarian masses—and that they would be able to choke the socialist revolution. And the illusion held by the Ebert-Scheidemann government, that they would be able to hold down the worker masses in their socialist class struggles, with the help of the soldier masses from the fronts. Those were the multifarious illusions that also provide explanations for recent events. A whole gamut of illusions that have now trickled away into nothingness. We have seen that Haase uniting with Ebert-Scheidemann under the sign of “socialism” is in reality nothing other than a fig leaf to cover up a purely revolutionary form of politics; and we have experienced that we will be cured of this self-deception as in all revolutions. There is a particular revolutionary method of curing the people of its illusions; but this cure is unfortunately bought at the cost of the blood of the people. This was the case here, just like in all previous revolutions. It was the blood of the victims in the Chausseestraße on December 6,12 it was the blood of the murdered naval marines on November 24,13 which sealed the following understanding and truth for the mainstay of the masses: what you’ve glued together as a so-called socialist government is nothing other than a government of bourgeois counterrevolution, and whoever tolerates this state of affairs is working against the proletariat and against socialism. (“Spot on!”)

            But party comrades, the Ebert-Scheidemann gentlemen’s illusion has also trickled away, that they were capable of permanently holding down the proletariat with the help of soldiers from the front. Because what has resulted from December 6 and from December 24? We’ve all been able to witness the soldier masses’ devastating disappointment, and the start of them positioning themselves critically against those same gentlemen, who wanted to use them as cannon fodder against the socialist proletariat. This, too, is determined by the law of the necessary, objective development of the socialist revolution, that the individual fire teams of the workers’ movement can be guided to a place— step by step, and through their own bitter experience—where they can recognize the correct road for the revolution. After Berlin, fresh soldier masses were introduced to the field as cannon fodder, to suppress the stirrings of the socialist proletariat—we note how enquiries about the Spartacus League’s pamphlets are being received from various barracks today. Party comrades, this is the conclusion of the first phase. Ebert-Scheidemann’s hopes of ruling over the proletariat with the help of backward soldiers have been largely smashed. What they [TRANSLATOR’S INTERPOLATION: Ebert and Scheidemann] can expect in the not too distant future is an ever clearer revolutionary understanding in the barracks, causing the army of the battling proletariat to grow, and leading to the camp of counterrevolution being weakened. From this follows, that another political actor still has to lose its illusions, and that is the bourgeoisie, the ruling class. If you read the newspapers of the last few days after the events of December 24, you will notice a very pronounced and clear tone of disappointment and outrage: the laborers up at the top have proven themselves to be inept. (“Quite right!”)

            People expected that Ebert-Scheidemann would prove themselves to be strong men, in order to keep the beast down? And what have they accomplished? They have enacted a couple of inadequate coups, out of which, from the other side, the Hydra of the Revolution raises its head even more determinedly. This means a mutual disillusion on all sides! The proletariat has lost all illusions about the joint structure of Ebert-Scheidemann-Haase as a soi-disant socialist government. Ebert-Scheidemann have rid themselves of the illusion that they can keep down proletarians in workers’ smocks long term, by using proletarians in uniform. And the bourgeoisie has disposed of its illusion of using Ebert-Scheidemann-Haase as a means of defrauding the whole socialist revolution in Germany of its goals. This is nothing but a negative balance, thousands of rags from destroyed illusions. But precisely this fact that only these torn shreds remain after the first phase of the revolution is a large gain for the proletariat; then there is nothing that can damage the revolution as much as illusions, and there is nothing that benefits it more than the clear and open truth. In this conviction, I appeal to a classic figure of German intellect, who was no proletarian revolutionary, but a bourgeois, intellectual revolutionary: I mean Lessing, who, in his final texts, as a librarian in Wolfenbüttel,14 wrote the following sentences, which I find very interesting and likeable:

“I do not know whether it be a duty to sacrifice fortune and life to the truth … But I know it is a duty, if one wants to teach the truth, to teach the whole of it or none at all; to teach it clearly and roundly, without riddles or reserve, and without doubts in its power and utility… For the greater the error, the shorter and straighter the way to the truth; refined error by contrast, can keep the truth eternally distant to us, even as it steadily becomes clearer to us, that it is error … whosoever thinks merely of hawking Truth mixed up with all manner of larvae and make-up, may well want to be her matchmaker—but her lover he shall never be.”15

            Party comrades, Messieurs Hasse, Dittmann and so forth have wanted to hawk Revolution, the socialist commodity, mixed up with all manner of larvae and make-up, and have proven themselves to be the matchmakers of the counterrevolution: today we are free of these ambiguities, the commodity stands and faces the mass of the German people in the form of the brutal, beefy Messieurs Ebert and Scheidemann. Today, even the stupidest person cannot fail to recognize: this is counterrevolution, down to a tee.

            What now presents itself as a further perspective of development, now that we have this first phase behind us? This obviously cannot be a question of prophesizing, but rather of drawing logical consequences from what we’ve experienced until now, and to apply these to the likely paths of forthcoming developments, in order to construct, subsequently, our own tactics, our own way of fighting. Party comrades, where is the road leading to now? You’ve already received a certain hint about this from the most recent statements made by the new Ebert-Scheidemann government, with their pure, unadulterated tones. What can the course of this soi-disant socialist government direct itself towards, after the fact, as I have already shown, a complete set of illusions have disappeared? With each day that passes, this government loses steadily more support among the great mass of the proletariat; besides the petit bourgeois, there are only remnants, sad remnants of proletarians, who stand behind it, but regarding whom it is very unclear, how long they will still stand behind Ebert-Scheidemann. These two will lose increasingly more backing from the soldier masses, as the soldiers have embarked down the road of critique and of self-reflection, a process that moves still slowly at first, but which however will not stop for a rest until it has reached full, socialist cognizance. They have lost all that the bourgeoisie credited them with, because they have not shown themselves to be strong enough. So where can this government’s road lead to? Very soon, they will make a clean break with their comedy of socialist politics; and if you read the new political program of these gentlemen, then you will see that they sail out into the second phase—the phase of counterrevolution unveiled, yes, I want to put it like this: into the restoration of earlier pre-revolutionary relations—with full steam ahead. What is the new government’s program? It includes the election of a president, who will have a position somewhere between the King of England and the American President (“Quite right!”), or, in other words, something near to a King Ebert; and secondly, the reconstruction of the Bundesrat [TRANSLATOR’S INTERPOLATION: Federal Council]. You can read, today, the independently stated demands of the governments of the south of Germany, which reinforce the federal state character of the German Empire.16 The reintroduction of the old, dutiful Federal Council and naturally, also of its sidekick, the German Reichstag, is now only a matter of weeks away. Party comrades, Ebert-Scheidemann are pursuing therewith a line of simply restoring relations to the way they were before November 9. But in so doing, they have placed themselves on a slippery slope, which they will tumble down from, to lie with crushed limbs at the bottom of the abyss. Because restoring social relations to the way they were before November 9, became outdated on November 9 already, and today Germany is miles away from this being possible. The government will find themselves forced into pushing an ever more massive form of counterrevolutionary politics, in order to strengthen their backing from their own class—the bourgeoisie—whose real class interests they represent,  a backing that has withered due to recent developments. A clear wish is expressed in these demands from the southern German states, published today in the Berlin newspapers, to bring about what is known as “increased security” for the German Empire, or, to use a good German wording for such things: to force through a state of emergency against “anarchistic”, “putschist” and “Bolshevist”—i.e. socialist—elements. Circumstances will push Ebert-Scheidemann into resorting to a dictatorship, with or without a state of emergency. The consequence of this, however, is that we will experience a much fiercer conflict and much tougher class struggles in this second phase of revolution, (“Absolutely!”), precisely because of developments until now, because of the logic of the events themselves, and because of the violence that encumbers the Ebert-Scheidemann project. A much fiercer conflict, not merely because the political moments that I’ve listed until now inevitably lead to commencing battle between the revolution and the counterrevolution—without illusions, chest against chest, eye against eye—but also because a new fire, a new flame is penetrating increasingly into the whole thing, and that is the flame of economic struggles.

            Party comrades, it is very characteristic of the first period of the revolution, one could say of the period that I have sketched until December 24, that—we have to be fully conscious about this—it was still an exclusively political revolution; and it is that which defines the beginner’s nature, the shortcomings, the unfulfilled character and the unconscious aspect of this revolution. This was the first stage of a transformation, the main tasks of which actually lie on economic territory: a transformation of economic relations. The revolution was ingenuous, with a child’s lack of consciousness, groping its way forward without knowing where it was going, possessing, as we have said, a purely political character. It is only in the last few weeks that the strikes have started to make their presence felt, in an utterly spontaneous fashion. We want, now, to come out and say it: it fits exactly to the whole being of this revolution, that the strikes are growing extensively, and that they have to increasingly become the central point and the main cause of the revolution. (“Quite right!”) This, then, is an economic revolution, and as such will become a socialist revolution. But the battle for socialism can only be fought out through the masses, breast to immediate breast against capitalism, in every workplace, by every proletarian against his employer. Only then can this become a socialist revolution.

            From a thoughtless perspective, needless to say, people imagined things proceeding differently. People thought it would suffice to merely overthrow the old government and install a socialist government at the top, which would then issue decrees to introduce socialism. This, in its turn, was nothing other than an illusion. Socialism has not been made, and cannot be made, by decrees, and can also not be made by a socialist government, however excellent. Socialism has to be made by the masses, and by every proletarian. The point at which they are welded to the chain of capitalism is the point at which the chain must be broken. That alone is socialism, and that is the only way of making socialism. 

            And what is the outer appearance of this struggle for socialism?—The strike, and that’s why we have observed how the economic phase of development has now stepped into the foreground in this second period of revolution. I also wish to emphasize here that we can be proud of the following, indisputable statement: we in the Spartacus League, the Communist Party of Germany, are the only people in the whole of Germany, who stand by the side of the striking and battling workers. (“Absolutely right!”) You will have read and seen how the Independent Party17 behaves towards the strikes at every opportunity. There was definitely no difference between the position in the Vörwarts and the position in the Freiheit. Instead, they [INTERPOLATION: both] said: you have to be industrious, as socialism means working a lot. And they say that, even while Capital is still in charge! We cannot make socialism in that way, but rather only through using the most energetic means to fight capitalism, the claims of whom are defended by people from the most extreme troublemakers to the Independent Party, to the Freiheit, with the only exception being the Communist Party. Thus, we have already explained that all forces, which do not stand with us on revolutionary-communist soil, are working tirelessly to combat the strikes.

            From this we may conclude: the strikes, in the forthcoming phase of the revolution, will not only continue to stretch in terms of size, but will rather become the central point, the decisive point of the revolution, pushing back the purely political questions. You will thus appreciate that an enormous accentuation of the situation as regards the economic struggle will occur. Because that leads the revolution to the point where the bourgeoisie no longer finds it funny. The bourgeoisie can afford mystifications in the political field where a masquerade is still possible, where people like Ebert-Scheidemann can still wear socialist labels in public—but not where profit is at stake. Then the Ebert-Scheidemann government will be forced to choose between these alternatives: either put an end to the strikes, and eradicate the threat of being choked that the strike movement presents to them—or the Messieurs of the Ebert-Scheidemann lot will have played their last card. I also believe that their political measures alone will mean that they will have played their last card very soon. The Ebert-Scheidemann lot find it particularly painful that they have not received much trust from the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie will think long and hard about whether they will be able to lay the ermine’s fur on the coarse, parvenu character of Ebert. If things get this far, they will end up saying: it’s not enough, not to have blood on your hands—he has to have blue blood in his veins (“Spot on!”). If things get this far then people will say: if we want to have a king, then we don’t need an upstart who can’t even behave like a king. (Laughter.)

            So, party comrades, Messieurs Ebert-Scheidemann are cajoling the situation so that a counterrevolutionary movement can spread. They will not be able to cope with the upwards, blazing flames of the economic class struggle, and they won’t be able to satisfy the bourgeoisie’s aspirations. They will have to go underground, either in order to make way for an attempt at counterrevolution—which would gather itself together in a desperate fight under the command of a Mr. Groener18, or to an outright military dictatorship under Hindenburg—or they will have to yield to other counterrevolutionary forces.

            We cannot define exactly, nor can we make any clear, affirmative statements about what will have to come. But the decisive issue is not outer appearances, or the moment when this thing or that thing will occur, as the main principles suffice for us, and they lead to the following: after the first phase of revolution of prevalently political struggle, the face arrives of what are strengthened, intensified, and predominantly economic struggles, during which, after a shorter or perhaps rather longer period of time, the Ebert-Scheidemann government will have to disappear into Hades.

            What will become of the National Assembly in the second phase of development is equally difficult to predict. It is possible, if it comes into being, that it will be a new school for the education of the working class, or, an option that we cannot discount, no National Assembly at all comes into being—we cannot predict anything. I merely wish to add something in brackets, so that you understand from which standpoints we defended our position yesterday: we were simply against placing our tactics alongside an alternative. I do not want, at this point, to spark this discussion all over again, but rather to simply state this, so that none of you, listening superficially, can get the idea: ah, now she’s changed her tune. We are in complete accordance with the position we took up yesterday. We do not want to base our tactics in relation to the National Assembly on the possibility that could—but does not have to—come to pass, i.e. that the National Assembly could be blown sky-high;19 rather, we want to base our tactics on the eventualities that will be in place if it comes into being, including the revolutionary utilization of the National Assembly.

            And what will then remain for the rundown Ebert-Scheidemann government, or for any other government that gets called social-democratic, with its hands on the tiller? As I have said, the proletariat as a mass has already slipped from their hands; the soldiers, equally, may no longer be used as counterrevolutionary cannon fodder. Which options are still open to these poor little people, to save their situation? They have only got one chance left, and if you, party comrades, have read the press reports today, you will have seen where the last reserves are based, which the German counterrevolution will lead into the field against us, if it should come to the crunch. You have all read that in Riga already, the German troops are proceeding arm in arm with the English, against the Russian Bolsheviks. Party comrades, I have documents in my hands here, with which we can gain an overview, of what is currently being dealt out in Riga. The whole thing is emanating from the High Command of the Eighth Army, hand in hand with Herr August Winnig, the German Social Democrat and union leader. It was always presented as a bare fact that the poor Ebert-Scheidemann lot were the Entente’s victims. In reality, the Vörwarts have been using this tactic for weeks, since the start of the revolution, of presenting things in such a way as if throttling the revolution in Russia was the Entente’s sincere wish—and it was only through this presentation that the Entente first warmed to the idea. We have proven here with documentary evidence how this plan was carried out at the cost of the Russian proletariat and of the German Revolution. In a telegram of December 26, Lieutenant Colonel Buerkner, Chief of the General Staff of the Eighth Army, reports on the negotiations, for the conclusion of which he traveled to Riga. The telegram in question reads as follows:

“On 23.12. talks took place between Winnig, delegate for the [INTERPOLATION: German] Empire and the English government representative, previously Consul General in Riga, Monsanquet, on board the English ship “Princess Margaret,” to which the German commander-in-chief or his representative was requested to take part. It was determined that I take part.

            Purpose of the talks:

            detailing the ceasefire conditions.

            Progress of the talks:

            The English:

            the ships here at dock should supervise the execution of the conditions.

Based on the ceasefire conditions, the following is demanded:

1. That the Germans maintain a military force in this municipality sufficient to keep the Bolsheviks in check and to not allow them penetrate forward from their current positions.”


“3. A breakdown regarding the current dispositions of the troops, which are combating the Bolsheviks, both the German and the Latvian, is to be sent to the British military field officer, for the attention of the oldest marine officer. All future analyses regarding the troops, carried out for the purposes of fighting the Bolshevists, are to be communicated to the same officer.

4. A sufficient military force has to be maintained, armed, at the following points, to prevent them being taken by the Bolshevists, and to prevent the Bolshevists penetrating forward in a general line, which joins the following localities: Walk [INTERPOLATION: divided, from 1920 on, into Valga in Estonia and Valka in Latvia], Wolmar [German name for Valmiera in Latvia], Wenden,20 Friedrichstadt, Pensk, Mitau.

5. The railroad from Riga to Liepāja is to be protected against Bolshevist attacks, and all British provisions and post, which are transported on this line, are to receive priority treatment.”

           There then follows a series of demands. And now the answer of the German delegate, Herr Winnig: “while it is unusual to want to force a government to continue to occupy a foreign state, it would, however, in this case be our sole wish”—this is what Herr Winnig, the German union leader is saying!—“an imperative, to protect German blood—the Baltic Barons—and that we also consider ourselves to be morally obliged to help that country which we would have liberated from previous connections with other states. Our efforts were made difficult, however, firstly due to the condition of our troops, who, effected by the ceasefire conditions, no longer wanted to fight but rather to go home, and who, besides that, consist of old war invalids; secondly, our efforts were made difficult by the behavior of the governments of this locality—this is meant as a reference to the Latvian governments—who present the Germans as their oppressor. But we were anxious to create voluntary units ready to fight, which we have partly achieved already.”

             What they’re doing here is counterrevolution. A while back you read about the creation of the “Iron Divisions,” explicitly constructed to combat the Bolshevists in the Baltic States.21 It wasn’t clear, at that point, how the Ebert-Scheidemann government would position themselves towards this new entity. Now you know that it was the government itself, which made the proposal for their creation.

            Party comrades, another brief remark about Winnig. We can calmly state the fact that the German union leaders—it is no coincidence, that a union leader carries out such political services—that the German union leaders and the German Social Democrats are the biggest, most infamous ne’er-do-wells that this world has ever seen. (Thunderous cheers of approval and applause). Do you know where these people—Winnig, Ebert, Scheidemann—belong? According to the German criminal code, which they themselves declare to be fully valid, and according to which they allow legal judgments to be pronounced, these people belong doing hard labor in a jail! (Thunderous cheers of approval and applause). Because, according to the German criminal code, any individual who undertakes to solicit German soldiers to carry out foreign [TRANSLATOR’S INTERPOLATION: military] service, is to be sentenced to hard labor. And today leading the “socialist government” we have—we can be straight about this— not merely people who are the Judases of the “socialist movement” and of the proletarian revolution,22 but jailbirds, who have no place whatsoever in a decent society. (Thunderous cheers of approval.)

            In connection with this point, I will read you a resolution at the end of my speech, to which I expect to receive your unanimous approval, so that we can move with the requisite vigor against these people, who as of now control the fate of Germany.

            Comrades, to return to an earlier threat of my elucidations: it is obvious that all these plots— the creation of Iron Divisions, and specifically the aforementioned deal with English imperialism—signify nothing less than the final reserves to throttle the German socialist movement, but that apprehension is most closely linked to the cardinal question, the question about the prospects for peace. What can be observe in these agreements, apart from the rekindling of the war? While these ne’er-do-wells perform a comedy in Germany, which claims that they’ve got their hands completely full with creating peace—and that we’re the people who are the troublemakers, who awake the dissatisfaction of the Entente, and delay the conclusion of peace— with their own hands they prepare to reignite war, or the war in the East, which will be followed hard by war in Germany.  You see here that we again have a situation that leads to the fact that we have to steady ourselves for a period of intense conflict. We will also have to defend the interests of world peace alongside the interests of socialism and the interests of the revolution, and that is precisely the confirmation of the tactics, which we Spartacus people, in turn, where alone in representing, at every opportunity, during the whole four years of war. Peace means the world revolution of the proletariat! There is no other way, of really producing and safeguarding peace, than the victory of the socialist proletariat. (Vigorous approval.)

            Party comrades, what can we draw from this as a general, tactical guideline for the situation in which we will be in the coming period? The first point we can conclude from this is certainly the hope, that the overthrow of the Ebert-Scheidemann government now proceeds, and that it is replaced by an outright socialist-proletarian-revolutionary government. However, I do not want to draw your attention upwards towards the top, but rather downwards. We may not simply nurture and repeat the illusion of the first phase of the revolution, of November 9, as if it could anyway suffice for the progress of the socialist revolution to overthrow the capitalist government, and to replace it by another one. The only way of ushering in the victory of the proletarian revolution is by starting, at a diametrically opposite point, to undermine the Ebert-Scheidemann government by using a socialist, revolutionary mass struggle of the proletariat at every turn. Here, too, I would like to remind you of a number of the German Revolution’s shortcomings, which the first phase has not overcome, but which rather show clearly that we have unfortunately not yet reached the point at which we can ensure the victory for socialism by toppling the government. I have attempted to demonstrate to you that the revolution of November 9 was principally a political revolution, while it essentially still has to become an economic revolution. It was also only an urban revolution, the countryside has, until now, remained almost untouched. It would be madness, to attempt to realize socialism without agriculture. From the standpoint of the socialist economy, it is utterly impossible to restructure industry without the direct combination with a form or agriculture, reorganized on socialist principles. The most important idea of the socialist economic order is the sublation of the opposition and the separation between city and country. This separation, this contradiction, this opposition is a purely capitalist phenomena, which will have to be sublated immediately, when we have positioned ourselves according to the socialist standpoint [TRANSLATOR’S INTERPOLATION: on this question]. If we are serious about socialist restructuring, then you must direct your attention just as much towards the countryside as to the industrial centers—and in this point we still, unfortunately, have not even reached the beginning of the beginning. We have to treat this seriously, not merely from the perspective that without agriculture we cannot socialize, but also because while we have counted the final reserves of the counterrevolution that stand against us and our endeavors, we have not yet counted a different, important reserve: the peasantry. Precisely because it has been untouched until now, it is still a reserve for the counterrevolutionary bourgeoisie. And the first thing they will do, when the flames of socialist strikes are burning at their heels, is to mobilize the peasantry, the fanatical devotees of private ownership. The only means of moving against this threatening, counterrevolutionary power is to carry the class struggle out into the country, by mobilizing the landless proletariat and the poor peasants against the peasantry.23

            From this we can draw conclusions about what we have to do, in order to ensure the preconditions for the success of the revolution, and I want therefore to summarize our next tasks in this direction: above all else, we have to extend, in the future, the system of workers’ and soldiers’ councils, especially of workers councils, in all directions. What we undertook on November 9 are only weak beginnings, and not even that. You are aware that the counterrevolution plans for a continuing dismantling of the system of workers’ and soldiers’ councils. In Hesse, the workers’ and soldiers’ councils have been suspended completely, in other locations the means of power are being torn out of their hands. We have to not only build up the system of workers’ and soldiers’ councils, but also have to introduce rural laborers and small peasants into this council system. We have to seize power, we have to present the question of seizing power as the question: what does each workers’ and soldiers council in the whole of Germany do? What can and should each council do? (“Bravo!”) That is where power lies, we have to hollow out the bourgeois state from below, by no longer separating but rather uniting public power, the passing of laws and the administration, in the hands of the workers’ and soldiers’ councils.

            Party comrades, this is the mighty field that we must farm. We must prepare from the bottom up, giving the workers’ and soldiers’ councils such power so that when the Ebert-Scheidemann government, or anything similar, is overthrown, this will be no more than the final act. As such, the seizure of power should not be a singular but rather an ongoing action, with us pressing ourselves into the bourgeois state, until we are in control of all posts, and are defending them tooth and claw. And the workers councils should also lead the economic struggle: that’s my approach, and the approach of my party friends. The leadership of the economic confrontation, and channeling this confrontation down ever further reaching roads should also be in the hands of the workers councils. The workers councils should possess all state power. This is what we have to work towards in the coming period, and from this follows, if we face up to this task, that we must reckon with a colossal accentuation of the struggle in the coming period. It is imperative now to fight, step by step, breast to breast, in every state, in every city, in every village, in every municipality, for all the state’s means of power, which must be torn away from the bourgeoisie bit by bit, and transferred to the workers’ and soldiers’ councils.

            But our party comrades and proletarians have to first be schooled for this task. Even in places where workers’ and soldiers’ councils already exist, people are still lacking consciousness about the purpose for which workers’ and soldiers’ councils have been called to achieve. (“Quite right!”) We have to first educate the masses that the workers’ and soldiers council should function as the lever for state machinery in all possible directions, that the council has to take control of all forms of state authority, and has to guide all these forms into the fairway of socialist revolution. Even those workers masses already organized into workers’ and soldiers’ councils are still miles away from this goal, with the exception, of course, of a few smaller minorities of proletarians, who are clearly conscious of their task. But this situation is not deficient, but rather normal for the present period. The mass has to learn how to exercise power through exercising power. This is the only way of teaching the mass how to do this. The times in which the motto was “educate the proletariat in a socialist way” have, luckily, past—those these times still seem to exist until today for the Marxists of the Kautskyian school. Educating the proletarian masses in a socialist way meant: holding lectures for them, and distributing leaflets and pamphlets to them. No—the socialist school for proletarians doesn’t need any of that. They will be educated through their deeds. (“Quite right!”) The motto here is: in the beginning was the deed; and the deed is indispensable, so that the workers’ and soldiers’ councils feel their calling, and learn to become the only public authority in the whole empire. This is the only way for us to undermine the earth, so that it becomes right for the overthrow that will crown our work. And that’s why, party comrades, it was not without a clear calculation and a clear consciousness, when we detailed for you yesterday, when I said, especially to you: don’t continue to construct such a comfortable struggle! Several comrades took me the wrong way, as if I had assumed that you want to boycott the National Assembly while standing around, arms folded. I would never have dreamt of saying that. I just could not go into depth on that point; in today’s framework and context, I have the chance to do so. I mean that history is not making things as easy for us as they were during the bourgeois revolutions, in which it was sufficient to overthrow the official authorities in the center, and to replace these with a couple, or with a couple of dozen, new men. We must work from below up, and that reflects the mass character of our revolution regarding its aims, which penetrate the very land and soil of societal constitution, and reflects the character of today’s proletarian revolution, that we have to build up the seizure of political power not from above, but rather from below. November 9 was the attempt to shake public authority and class rule—a weak, half-made, not conscious, and chaotic attempt. What we now need to do is to direct the whole consciousness of the combined power of the proletariat towards the foundational structures of capitalist society. Down below, where each entrepreneur faces his wage slaves, down below, where all executive organs of political class supremacy face the objects of this supremacy—the masses—that is where we must tear the rulers means of authority away from them, step by step, and hold them with our own hands. When I describe it like this, the process appears more protracted, perhaps, than one would tend, at first, to imagine it. I believe that it is healthy for us to gaze with utter clarity on all the difficulties and complications of this revolution. Because I hope that this description of the major difficulties and the tasks piling up does not affect any of you such as to lame your mettle or your energy; it doesn’t do this to me. The bigger the task, the more we will draw together all our collective forces; and there’s one thing we won’t forget: the revolution understands how to complete its works with incredible speed. I shan’t take on the prophesying of how much time this process needs. Which of us is calculating, which of us is even bothered, if only our lives are long enough to reach the end! The only thing that matters is that we know clearly and exactly what is to be done; and I hope that with my weak powers I have provided a tolerable demonstration of the chief characteristics of what is to be done.24


1    See GW Vol. 4, p. 440-449.

2    [TRANSLATOR’S INTERPOLATION: the German-language Luxemburg edition, GW Vol. 4, refers, of course, to the 1872 German edition of Marx/Engels at this point. As we have to give the quotation in the English translation, I decided upon the Marxist Internet Archive translation, which gives the translation made by Samuel Moore in cooperation with Engels in 1888. However, I understood that Peter wants to consistently use the David Fernbach & Ben Fowkes translations of Marx-Engels throughout our L. edition, where these are available. I am not sure if Fernbach or Fowkes translated this preface. Can the editors check this? The translators and editors ALSO need to check, with regard to Marx-Engels quotes & all other longer quotations, if ALL the sentences in the English translations are actually included in the GW Luxemburg edition. If NOT, we need to mark what is omitted using an interpolation, i.e. square brackets.]

          Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, Preface to the 1872 German Edition of the Manifesto of the Communist Party, trans. Samuel Moore in cooperation with Frederick Engels, 1888 . Cited from: www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/preface.htm

3    Here Luxemburg refers to the page numbering of the original 1872 German edition: Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, “Vorwort[zur deutschen Ausgabe von 1872],” in Werke, Vol. 4, p. 573-574.

4    Again, quoted in the trans. by Samuel Moore in cooperation with Frederick Engels, 1888; retrieved from: Marxist Internet Archive.

5    Friedrich Engels, “Preface,” trans. ???. Retrieved from: www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1850/class-struggles-france/ [TRANSLATOR’S INTERPOLATION: We need to first check with Peter if this Marxist Internet Archive trans. of Engel’s Preface is acceptable, or which one he wants used.]

6    See last footnote.

7    See last footnote.

8    [TRANSLATOR'S INTERPOLATION: footnote and cross reference to volume's glossary needed here, esp. for the person of David.]

9    [TRANSLATOR'S INTERPOLATION: in the original text at this point, Luxemburg indulges in word play, using the plural neologism “Scheidemännern,” to connote more than one politician of the sort of Philipp Heinrich Scheidemann (26 July 1865 – 29 November 1939), a German SPD politician. The translation follows suit, creating “Scheidemen” out of “Scheidemann.”]

10  [TRANSLATOR'S INTERPOLATION: here Luxemburg uses “Großkapital” a noun, in its adjectival form: “großkapitalistischen Entwicklung.” “Großkapital” was, of course, used by Marx himself, among other places at Karl Marx: MEW 25, Das Kapital III, p. 269. (For quote, see below). One reason why we should footnote this point of the text, is that “Großkapital” either its noun form, or its adjectival form, was a commonplace in German-language, anti-Semitic discourse in Luxemburg's day – and remains one up until the present day – used, in this anti-Semitic trope, as a synonym for Jewish people acting as a collective.

      The following is one way in which Marx uses Großkapital: at MEW 25, Das Kapital III, p. 269: „Und sobald die Kapitalbildung ausschließlich in die Hände einiger wenigen, fertigen Großkapitale fiele, … wäre überhaupt das belebende Feuer der Produktion erloschen.“

      This quote suggests that Marx also saw “Großkapitale” as individuals, or groups of people – note the use of “into the hands of” – rather than non-person specific entities. We need to check the standard Marx translation from Fowkes or Fernbach of this point of Capital, and translate in accordance with that.

11  [TRANSLATOR’S INTERPOLATION: footnote needs inserted here, referring to earlier footnotes about Ebert, Scheidemann and Haase.]

12  See GW Vol. 4, p. 437, footnote 1.

13  On December 24, 1918, counterrevolutionary troops, led by Lieutenant General Arnold Lequis attacked the People’s Navy Division in the City Palace and the Royal Stables, with use of artillery. In this clash, eleven marines, and fifty-six soldiers from Lequis’ troops, lost their lives. The fighting marines were aided by armed Berlin workers. Due to this help, the attack failed.

14  [TRANSLATOR’S INTERPOLATION: propose editors insert footnote here on Lessing & the Lessing Library in Wolfenbüttel. This point is not footnoted in the German text.]

15  Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, chapter titled “Eine Duplik” in On Love of Truth, trans. Henry Holland. [TRANSLATOR’S INTERPOLATION: a full bibliographic reference for this quote needs to be found, for which I have written the English translation.]

16  Representatives of the governments of Baden, Bavaria, Hesse and Württemberg had stated the following demands in Stuttgart on December 27-28, 1918: 1. A new structuring of the German Empire as a federal state; 2. the creation of an imperial government and national assembly, capable of political action; 3. speedy implementation of a peace for the German Empire. They spoke expressly against the creation of an exclusively central government, which would demote the governments of the individual federal states to provincial administrations; and also demanded to take part in the negotiations with the USA about deliveries of basic food stuffs, through a delegation representing the shared interest of the southern German governments.

17  [TRANSLATOR’S INTERPOLATION: propose footnote needed here to confirm that Luxemburg is here to the Independent Social Democratic Party, or, to use the German acronym, the USDP.]

18  [TRANSLATOR’S INTERPOLATION: propose inserting footnote here, explaining the Ebert-Groener pact. The following needs rewording: “The Ebert–Groener pact, sometimes called the Ebert-Groener deal, was an agreement between the Social Democrat Friedrich Ebert, at the time the head of government of Germany, and Wilhelm Groener, Quartermaster General of the German Army, on November 10, 1918.”]

19  [TRANSLATOR’S INTERPOLATION: this point of the original text is v. ambiguous; because of that, we should footnote it. L. uses the exact phrase “daß nähmlich die Nationalversammlung in die Luft fliegt”; what is unclear, is whether she means that figuratively – i.e. talking about the possiblity that the national assembly could “implode,” in the sense of collapsing – or whether she is actually discussing the possibility that a future national assembly could be blown up by physical force.]

20  [INTERPOLATION: the following, just to provide some basic info, needs reworded] The Wenden Voivodeship was a unit of administrative division and local government in the Duchy of Livonia, part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

21  From mid-November 1918, the Army Higher Command in Riga, in collaboration with the Imperial Commissar for the Baltic States, the right-wing trade union leader August Winnig, organized the creation of counterrevolutionary, voluntary units, similar to the Eiserne Division [Iron Division], intended for deployment against the Baltic and Finnish workers, and against the Poles. In Germany, these freikorps became the decisive element amongst the civil-war troops against the revolution

22  [TRANSLATOR’S INTERPOLATION: I propose footnoting this reference. I do not suggest that Luxemburg uses the reference in this way, but it is significant that references to Judas to symbolize betrayal were a common anti-Semitic trope in Luxemburg’s time, and remain so today. This is why we should footnote this.]

23  Translator’s note: I have chosen to translate Luxemburg’s use of “das Bauerntum” as “the peasantry,” while I have translated her use of “das Kleinbauerntum” with “the poor peasants.” The terms “the small peasants” and “the small peasantry,” both of which would be a more literal translation of “das Kleinbauerntum,” are used in much English-language Marxian discourse, but I reject them as more misleading than the term “the poor peasants.” Choosing to use “the small peasants” or “the small peasantry” here, in opposition to “the peasantry,” would suggest that the members of the former group have tenancies over much smaller landholdings than members of the latter group, but nowhere at this point of Luxemburg’s writings does she indicate where she would draw the line.

       My choice of “the poor peasants” to translate this term in Luxemburg’s writings more clearly represents the social relations of the class she is discussing: Luxemburg is indicating that because “das Kleinbauerntum” have tenancies over such small landholdings, their class interests lie in forming an alliance with the landless proletariat, rather than “the peasantry” as such (das Bauerntum), who see their class interests in being allied with groups who have control over land as private property. The following definition by L.N. Kritsman, quoted in A Dictionary of Marxist Thought, could be used to confirm that when Luxemburg writes about the “Bauerntum” and the “Kleinbauerntum,” she is writing about the peasantry and the poor peasants, and not about farmers in general as a class:

            “Peasant farming is the farming of petty producers. A characteristic of them is the presence in their enterprise of their own means of production and its use by their own labor. In other words . . . the relation between its own labor power and its own means of production alone can characterize a peasant farm.” Cited by Cox, in Cox and Littlejohn 1984, p. 25)

24  [TRANSLATOR'S INTERPOLATION: Luxemburg must be consciously quoting Lenin in this sentence of her speech. A footnote?]


Quotes taken from: Rosa Luxemburg: Gesammelte Werke, Bd. 4., August 1914 bis Januar 1919, Berlin, S. 486-511.

* This is a draft version translated by Henry Holland. 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.