Speech supporting KPD participation in the elections to the National Assembly*

Rosa Luxemburg on 30 December 1918 afternoon

Every one of us, including Comrade Levi, considers above all the fierce opposition—but also the mood that developed here during his speech1—with inner joy concerning the source of this opposition. We understand you all and value your revolutionary spirit inordinately, and the resolve that all of you communicate; when Comrade Rühle warns you all about opportunism,2 we shall ignore this reproach. Perhaps our work has not been in vain, when we encounter such resolute party comrades. The danger attached to our opportunism is not as large as Comrade Rühle has depicted it to be here. I am convinced that it is our duty to speak loudly and clearly to you, when we represent an opinion that opposes yours. We would be pitiful representatives of the Spartacus League, standing defiantly against the world, if we didn’t have the courage to stand and face our own comrades.

            The joy, which I just expressed, regarding the mood that you express so thunderously, is not unambivalent. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I think about this joy. I am convinced that you want to be a bit too comfy and hasty in your radicalism, as is proven by your calls of “on with the vote!” That is not the kind of maturity and earnestness that belong in this hall. I am deeply convinced that we must contemplate and deal with this matter calmly. We are called to the greatest tasks of world history, and we cannot consider with sufficient thoroughness and maturity the steps that lie ahead of us, so that we can be sure of reaching our goal. Such important decisions cannot be forced. I cannot discern a contemplative and serious attitude, which should in no way exclude revolutionary spirit, but should rather be twinned to it.

            I want to give a short example of the lack of consideration you want to devote to matters that demand adult scrutiny. One comrade here, calling in, vehemently, from the side, and spurred on by revolutionary impatience, demands that we waste no time at all. Discussing one of the most important questions is called wasting time! This comrade justified himself by referring to Russia, an example that demonstrates that one is not taking time to scrutinize the arguments one is presenting with regard to their correctness. The situation in Russia, at the point in time at which the National Assembly was rejected, was a little bit similar to today’s situation in Germany. But have you forgotten that before the rejection of the National Assembly in November something else occurred, the revolutionary proletariat’s seizure of power? Have you perhaps already got a socialist government today, a Trotsky-Lenin government? Before that Russia has had a long history of revolution, which Germany has not. The Revolution begins in Russia not in March 1917, but already in the year 1905. The most recent revolution is but merely the final chapter, behind which lies the whole period from 1905 on. You have nothing backing you apart from the miserable half-revolution on November 9 [TRANSLATOR’S INTERPOLATION: 1918]. We must deliberate assiduous[ly], what could now benefit the revolution the most, what its next tactical tasks could look like, and how these could be articulated.

            Don’t rush so, and be patient enough to hear me out. A group of us wants to labor in parliament with slogans. But that is not what it comes down to. Which is the surest path to educating the masses in Germany about their tasks? Your tactics are based on the constellation of circumstances that in fourteen days, when people are departing from Berlin, it will be possible to build a new government in the city. “We are going to build a new government here in fourteen days.” I would be delighted if this were to turn out to be the case. But as a serious politician, I cannot construct my tactics based on speculation. However, not all possibilities have been exhausted. I will need to expand upon those possibilities that will be brought about by the government’s new course, the next phase of a very tough conflict. But I am duty bound to pursue those paths revealed to me through my apprehension of the conditions in Germany. The tasks are extraordinary and issue into the socialist world revolution. But what we see in Germany until now is still the masses’ immaturity. Our next task is to school the masses to fulfill these tasks. We apparently want to achieve this through parliamentarism. The word should decide matters. I tell you3 that precisely thanks to the immaturity of the masses, who have, until now, not understood how they can lead the system of councils to victory, the counterrevolution has managed to erect the National Assembly as a bulwark against us. And now our road leads straight through the middle of this bulwark. It is my duty to direct all common sense against this, to enter into the National Assembly, to bang my fist on the table there, [INTERPOLATION: and to state that] the people’s will is the highest law. It is here that we must decide. When the mass has reached the requisite level of maturity then the small group, the minority, will form itself into the ruling power, they [TRANSLATOR’S INTERPOLATION: the mass OR the masses] will then also grant us the power to expel those groups from the temple from within4 who have no place there, our opponents, the bourgeoisie, the petit bourgeois etc. But the mass has not [TRANSLATOR’S INTERPOLATION: yet] reached this point.

            You have to be consistent in your arguments. On one side you speculate on such maturation in the outer circumstances, and on such revolutionary power and consciousness among the masses, that you promise to install a socialist government to replace the National Assembly within fourteen days; on the other hand you state that should a National Assembly be formed, the pressure from the street will sweep it away. Do not delude yourselves that if we were to propose to the mass not to throw their voting papers into the ballot boxes, that the elections would then look different. The elections represent a new instrument in the revolutionary struggle. You, on the other hand, are still imprisoned in old mental structures. For you, the only thing that exists is the Imperial German Parliament. You cannot imagine using these means in a revolutionary spirit. Your understanding is: either machine guns or parliamentarism. We however want a more refined form of radicalism. Not merely this coarse-grained “either-or” variety. Yes, it’s simpler and more comfortable, but it is a simplification that will not serve to educate and bring up the masses.

            From a purely practical viewpoint, would you really be able to say with a clear conscience, if you were to agree upon the boycott, that you are the best core of the German working class? And that as the representatives of the revolutionary class, you are able to assure people with a clear conscience that the mighty masses of the working class will in fact follow your calls for a boycott, and will not take part? I am talking about the mighty masses, and not about the groups that belong to us. Here we must consider millions of men, women, young people and soldiers. I ask you clearly if you can say, with a good conscience, that these masses—if we were to agree here on boycotting the National Assembly—will turn their backs on the elections or, better still, raise their fists against the National Assembly? You5 cannot assert that with a clear conscience. We know about the circumstances that prevail amongst the masses, and how very unripe those masses still are. The fact remains, that, at the very point at which we want to transport revolutionary spirit into these brains, you detach us from the possibility, of grabbing supremacy out of the hands of the counterrevolution. While we support activity in the revolutionary sense of the word, you make yourselves comfortable, ignore counterrevolutionary plots, and leave the masses exposed to counterrevolutionary influences. You yourselves can feel that you can’t do this.

            In which way do you want to influence the elections, if you declare from the start that we view the elections as being null and void? We have to show the masses that there is no better answer to the counterrevolutionary motion against the system of councils than to achieve a massive demonstration of voters, who vote for precisely those people who are against the National Assembly and for the system of councils. That is the active method of redirecting the firearm that is being aimed at us, by aiming it at our opponent’s breast. You must understand that the individual who has stated that he suspects us of opportunism, has not taken the time—under work and time pressure—to calmly and thoroughly scrutinize both his and our position.

            This can only be about which method is better suited to serving the common purpose of educating the masses. No one is talking about opportunism in this hall, Comrade Rühle, please note that! When you say: “I am concerned about the disadvantageous consequences of parliamentarism for the masses,” your argumentation contains a deep contradiction. On the one hand, you are so sure about the masses’ revolutionary maturity that you start from the premise of constructing a socialist government here within just fourteen days, i.e. reaching the definitive end of socialism. On the other hand, you are scared on behalf of the same, so very ripe masses, about the dangerous effects of voting. I have to say to you frankly that I am scared of nothing at all. I am convinced that the mass, right from the start, is born and created through the whole situation in such a way that it will understand our tactics correctly. We have to bring up the masses in the spirit of our tactics so that they understand how to utilize the instrument of voting not as a weapon of the counterrevolution, but rather as class-conscious, revolutionary masses using [TRANSLATOR’S INTERPOLATION: this weapon] to crush those people [TRANSLATOR’S INTERPOLATION: i.e. the counterrevolution], who have pressed it into our hands.

            I will conclude by formulating a concept: in terms of our purpose and intention nothing divides us at all, we stand on the same ground of fighting against the National Assembly as a counterrevolutionary bulwark, of calling out the masses and of raising them to destroy the National Assembly. It remains a question of expedience and of which methods are better. Your methods are simpler and more comfortable, while ours are rather more complicated, and I value them for that very reason, that they will deepen the intellectual revolutionization of the masses. Moreover, your tactics involve speculating on the unstable circumstances of the coming weeks, while ours keep in sight the long path still ahead of us, in terms of raising the masses. Our tactics calculate the next tasks in the context of the other tasks of the whole revolution that lies before us, up to the point where the German proletarian masses are mature enough, to grasp the reins themselves. You tilt at windmills when you insinuate that I use such arguments. We will have to utilize the street after all—our tactics are based on developing our main activities on the street. Which proves, that you6 either want to use machine guns, or you want to get into the German Reichstag. It’s exactly the opposite! The Street should rise to a position of rule and of triumph everywhere. We want to implant a victorious signal inside the National Assembly, climbing on the back of activity taking place outside. We want to blow up this bulwark from the inside. We want the stage in the National Assembly, and the stages at electoral rallies. Whether or not you pass the motion in this way or in another, you stand with us on common ground, on the ground of the revolutionary struggle against the National Assembly.


1    Commissioned to do so by the Central Committee of the Spartacu­s League, Paul Levi justified the participation of the   newly formed KPD in the elections to the National Assembly.

2    In his speech, Otto Rühle, judging incorrectly the balance of power in Germany, rejected participating in the elections for the National Assembly, by labelling such participation opportunistic.

3    [TRANSLATOR'S INTERPOLATION: at this point in her speech, Luxemburg switches to the polite and formal version of “you” in German, expressed as “Ihnen” and “Sie,” in contrast to the informal, second person plural form, “ihr” and “euch,” which she has used up to this point of the speech.

4    [TRANSLATOR'S INTERPOLATION: this clearly seems to be a reference to Jewish sacred scripture and / or to Old Testament narratives, specifically to the narrative of Athaliah being expelled from the temple, narrated in the following sections of the Old Testament. (See following listing.) The BIGGER QUESTION we need to tackle in footnoting such references, is whether Luxemburg is systematically using the Israelites, as depicted in Jewish scriptures and the Old Testament, as an analogy for the revolutionary proletariat, i.e. with the message that the revolutionary proletariat is “destined” to persevere and triumph, despite their ordeals. My reading until now is that Luxemburg DOES consciously build this analogy; but we need to discuss this with the other editors & translators. The references to the expulsion of Athaliah from the Temple are at : 2 Kings 11:4         2 Chronicles 23:3      2 Kings 11:12             2 Chronicles 23:11 . See, for example, wikipedia entry for “Jehoash of Judah,” the grandson of Athaliah. Athaliah's expulsion from the temple is also a subject of religious painting. We need to CHECK that this is the specific the narrative in sacred literature that Luxemburg is referring to here.]

5    [TRANSLATOR'S INTERPOLATION: here Luxemburg switches back, from the more formal “Sie” to the less formal “ihr.”]

6    [TRANSLATOR'S INTERPOLATION: here, as at many points in this speech, Luxemburg addresses herself as “you,” using the “Sie” form of “you.” She does this to represent the confrontational dialogue she is having at the founding congress. We should check, and possibly footnote, all points where she uses this rhetorical device.]

Quotes taken from: Rosa Luxemburg: Gesammelte Werke, Bd. 4., August 1914 bis Januar 1919, Berlin, S. 479-483.

* 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.