Party Conference of the Independent Socialist Party*

Rosa Luxemburg on 29 November 1918

The stream of the revolutionary period draws people, things, and conditions into its critical vortex, sifting them, shaping them and forcing them to make decisions. Names, programs, parties must prove themselves at the touchstone of deeds. Nothing half and ambiguous lasts. Whoever isn't with me is against me, that's the principle of revolution.

     Independent social democracy is inherently a child of weakness, and compromise is the essence of its existence. Its thread of life began with Haase's compromise, who - an opponent of credit approval - on 4 August 1914 read the memorable declaration of the Socialist Group and tied his name to the world-historical collapse of German socialism and the International.  

     Its further anamnesis that is the three-time granting of war loans, i.e., support for the Scheidemann and comrades in their betrayal of the working class, for two years by deed - in contradiction to the word of their own criticism of the politics of the majority.

     Its official birth as an independent party was not an act of male resolution, not a clear decision on one's own initiative, not a historical act, but a forced result of the ouster by the Scheidemanns1, an episode of pathetic squabbling over "party discipline" with desecrators of the socialist banner.

     The life story of the party corresponded to its origin. It has always trotted behind events and developments; it never took the lead. It has never been able to draw a fundamental line between itself and the dependent ones. Any dazzling ambiguity that led to confusion among the masses: peace of understanding, the League of Nations, disarmament, the Wilson cult, all the phrases of bourgeois demagogy that spread the veils, that obscured the naked, craggy facts of the revolutionary alternative during the war, found their eager support. The whole attitude of the party circled helplessly around the cardinal contradiction that on the one hand it tried to continue to make the bourgeois governments as the called powers inclined to make peace, on the other hand, it spoke the word of the mass action of the proletariat.

     An accurate mirror of contradictory practice is eclectic theory: a hodgepodge of radical formulas with the hopeless abandonment of the socialist spirit. The slogan of national defense in the purely bourgeois sense, coupled with the discovery of the theoretical leader of the party that the international was only an instrument of peace, not a weapon against war2, amounted to the mere justification of the politics of the Scheidemanns.

     Until the outbreak of the revolution, it was a policy from case to case, without a complete worldview illuminating the past and the future of German social democracy from a light source that would have had a view of the broad lines of development.

     A party of such constitution, suddenly faced with the historical decisions of the revolution, had to fail miserably. The granite of the foundation that withstands storms just as steadfastly as lukewarm periods of calm, the steel of the decision that generates the spark of action at great moments, it was not there. A drift sand dune, that is all the Independent Social Democracy had to offer to the onslaught of events.

     And their policies, their tactics, their principles scattered like wind-borne sand. After living for four years during the war from the branding of Scheidemann-Ebert as the traitor to socialism and the international, as the disgrace and corruption of the workers' movement, its first act after the outbreak of the revolution was to join forces with Scheidemann-Ebert to form a common government and proclaim this prostitution of its own principles as a "purely socialist" policy.3 In the hour that finally makes the socialist goals the practical task of the day, the sharpest, most inexorable divorce between the camp of the revolutionary proletariat and the open as well as disguised enemies of revolution and socialism the highest duty, the Independent Party hastened to enter into a political partnership with the most dangerous outposts of counterrevolution, to confuse the masses and to facilitate treachery.

     Its real mission as a partner in the Scheidemann-Ebert company is to mystify its clear and unambiguous character as a protective force of bourgeois class rule in a system of ambiguities and cowardice.

     The most classic expression of this role of the Haase and comrades is their attitude towards the most important slogan of the day, the National Assembly.

     There are only two positions possible on this issue, as in all others. Either one wants the National Assembly as a means to bounce the proletariat off its power, to paralyze its class energy, to dissolve its final socialist goals into a blue mist, or one wants to put all the power into the hands of the proletariat, to develop the revolution that has begun into a massive class struggle for the socialist social order and to this end establish the political rule of the large mass of the workers - the dictatorship of the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils. For or against socialism, against or for the National Assembly, there is no third.

     Here, too, the Independent Party is struggling to bring mountains and valleys together, to unite fire and water in the name of "unity." It wants the National Assembly as the highest judging and decisive authority, but it wants to postpone this National Assembly as long as possible and implement the broad outlines of socialization beforehand through dictatorial measures of the current government.

     The wound middle position, as always, amounts to ambiguity, even political dishonesty. Either one is serious with the National Assembly as the called decisive representative of the people, then it forbids itself that this supreme authority is put before finished facts, put behind the cart of the most important social upheavals. Or one is serious with the socialist dictatorship of the proletariat; then one does not put the National Assembly in between the doors of revolutionary history as a provisional measure and does not hand over its barely begun work to the final judgment of a bourgeois-democratic assembly.

     A party that in the hour of great, clear, bold decisions of world-historical importance only reveals ambiguities, fluctuations and half-measures, that wants to make foreign policy with the imperialist annexationist David, culture and elementary education with the German-national chauvinist Haenisch, socialism with the executioner of the revolution, Ebert, that through Barth's mouth exhorts the striking masses to quiet and to cadaver obedience to the entrepreneur's whip - such a party is judged by its every word and every deed. It was a product of decades of mire formation in the German labor movement. Today, the German proletariat needs a socialist party at its head that is up to the task. There is no place for a party of half measure and ambiguity in the revolution.

     The party's ambivalent policy corresponds to the discord in its ranks. Growing numbers of their own supporters stand in strongest opposition to the leading group of backward elements Haase-Kautsky, who form the lead weight of the Independent Party. The current state of the party has become untenable. It must be put before the decision.

     The speediest convening of the party conference, which will bring clarification and decision, has become an undeniable demand! The revolution needs sharpened weapons. The vast majority of the Independent Party will have to answer whether it is a Damascus blade, or whether it is a "sword of cardboard."

     "And what it is, it dares to shine."

1 See p. 181, footnote 3 and p. 270, footnote 2.

2 See pp. 20-23.

3 On November 10, 1918, the Council of People's Representatives, to which Friedrich Ebert, Otto Landsberg and Philipp Scheidemann of the SPD, Emil Barth, Wilhelm Dittmann and Hugo Haase of the USPD had joined, was confirmed as a provisional government by the General Assembly of the Berlin Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils.

First published in Die Rote Fahne (Berlin), No. 14 from 29. November 1918.

Quotes taken from Rosa Luxemburg’s Gesammelte Werke, Vol. 4, pp. 423-426.

* 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.