The „Immature” Mass*

Rosa Luxemburg on 3 December 1918

Last Thursday1, a meeting of the soldiers' councils took place in the Reichstag building in Berlin. It was stormy inside. A counterrevolutionary clique constituted the day before, gathered around Lieutenant Waltz - Lieutenant Waltz himself confessed that he had participated in the preparations of the revolution in order to be able to send a message to the general headquarters -, acted in unison with good direction and sought to kill the revolution by means of strong vocal resources . It didn't succeed. After long, noisy scenes, the Assembly dissolved itself with an almost unanimous compromise amendment - perhaps the only disgrace in this whole meeting.

     For it is nothing more natural than that in times of revolution the political excitement and emotion expresses itself in loud forms. Although red heads may not be the highest product of a people's political education, they are nevertheless a higher product than the semi-closed lids of the "old and deserving party comrade" who, on the pay evening [Zahlabend]/typo3/ , happily slumbers into the annual report of the superior party secretary.

     We, therefore, said nothing against the excitement and the wild pathos of the masses, not even then, when all the excitement turned against us in that first plenary meeting of the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils in the Busch circus, when the soldiers put the gun on the comrade Liebknecht. We fought those whose shabby demagogy misdirected the sky-storming will of the masses into the wrong tracks; we tried and try to give the masses the clear understanding of their situation and their goals, yet to leave them all their enthusiasm and their storm and urge for the enormous tasks they are to solve. We keep it with the words that one can accomplish the great things only with enthusiasm.

     The Vorwärts liked it differently. There sits an editor somewhere in a writing chair of the Vorwärts editorial office and asks in the tone of the petty bourgeois [Biedermann], who is peculiar to all con men: "Hand on your heart! Do you think that an assembly like yesterday's is called and able to speak a decisive word about the fate of our people?"2/typo3/

     After the verdict has been passed on this rhetorical question of the assembly, the Vorwärts does not fail to bring its old midwifery remedies into recommendable memory. Firstly, there is rule and order. After all donations from this blessed heavenly daughter have been duly praised, the second recipe is given: political and parliamentary training.

     We have already described the pleasant fruits of political and parliamentary training for the working class too often for us to want to depict them again today – just look at the "revolutionary" achievements of this socialist government in three weeks of revolution, and look at the deeds accomplished by Mr. Ebert, the "politically and parliamentary trained", in his trade with Wilson.3/typo3/ There we have enough of such "political and parliamentary training."

     But the Vorwärts has not had enough. The one assembly of the soldiers' councils in Berlin, which doesn’t appeal to its "politically and parliamentary trained!" taste, gives it the reason to draw the case in general and to conclude further:

     “If one has experienced events like yesterday's, one sincerely understands what a vile popular fraud the Russian Soviet government, praised by fools, is. Our workers and soldiers - and this can probably be said without nationalist supremacy - are by far superior to the Russian regarding general education and political training. If the system of the constitution of the Councils fails here, then this is the best proof that even in the most educated and intelligent people this system is impracticable because it is an 'inner impossibility.'"4  Thus, "without nationalist supremacy," two statements have been made:

     firstly, that the German workers and soldiers are by far superior above the Russian in general education and political training;

     then that the whole system is not feasible, suffers from an inner impossibility because even of the most educated and intelligent people education and intelligence are not sufficient, and all this then leads him to a third observation: "Only the Constituent National Assembly brings salvation from this hullabaloo.”5/typo3/

     One is right about all of this. On average, the German people have attended school longer, learned to write better and to do mental arithmetic better than the Russian people. It also enjoyed - one of the foundations for "political and parliamentary training" - longer than the Russians religious and patriotic history education and then attended German social democracy’s university of "political-parliamentary education." This teacher told us to consider the world's most shameless war of robbery as a defense against a "shameful raid", the threatened cash cabinets of the capitalists for "house and court", the robbery of Belgium and northern France for "our just cause" and the murder of its proletarian brothers in Finland, Ukraine, Livonia, Estonia, in the Crimea for a struggle for "order and rule".

     The whole purpose of this revolution is the fierce rebellion of the masses against these results of "parliamentary and political education," against the school as well as the schoolmaster, and just yet the Vorwärts is at hand to take them back into school with the "Constituent National Assembly."

     Certainly, there they would all come again, the "politically and parliamentary trained" gentlemen, the Westarp and the Erzberger, the Stresemann and the Gröber, the Payer and Haußmann, all the heirs of art acquired through centuries in the bourgeoisie, to deceive the people. And with them would come the Scheidemann and the Ebert, David, and Lensch, who have copied from them how they clear their throat and how they spit. They would all come back together and continue their profession of popular fraud, which they last practiced in four years of war with horrific virtuosity and which came to an end on the bloody battlefields in France and the first mass deed of German workers and soldiers.

     With the prank that the Vorwärts has delivered here, it stands worthily by the side of his master Friedrich Ebert: If he has tried to physically kill the revolution through hunger hand in hand with Mr. Wilson, the Vorwärts seeks to assassinate it spiritually by erecting again before the masses that brazen tablet that the bourgeoisie and every ruling class has held before the oppressed for millennia and on which it was written: "You are not mature; you can never become it, an 'inner impossibility'; you need leaders; we are the leaders.”

     It has now happily developed into the state philosophy of reactionaries of all times and countries, and this spectacle is not made more pleasing by the fact that the same Vorwärts, just twelve hours after it declared in an editorial the spiritual backwardness of the masses to "philosophically" be a phenomenon of eternity, appeals to shame, honor and conscience in a demagogic squabble against a member of the Executive Council, because this has spoken of "the masses are not being ripe yet"6/typo3/, and that the Vorwärts issues the same Soldiers’ Coucil, again one day later, the testimony of maturity, because he has taken a decision that suits the Vorwärts’ book.7 The Vorwärts‘ shamelessness is not improved by hypocrisy.

     No proletariat in the world, not even the German one, can, just like that, eradicate the traces of thousands of years of servitude from one day to the next, the traces of the shackles laid on them by Messrs. Scheidemann and the like. The political constitution as little as the mental constitution of the proletariat has reached its peak on the first day of the revolution. - Only the struggles of revolution will raise the proletariat to full maturity in every sense.

     The beginning of the revolution was the sign that this maturing process began. It will progress rapidly, and the Vorwärts has a good yardstick by which it can determine the entry of full maturity. On the day on which his editors are thrown from their seats and along with Messrs. Scheidemann, Ebert, David and the like to where the Hohenzollern or Ludendorff sit - the day of full maturity has arrived.

/typo3/1 November 28, 1918.

2 „Nur die Demokratie kann uns retten!“ (Only democracy can save us!) in Abend-Vorwärts (Berlin), No. 328a from November 29, 1918.

3 Friedrich Ebert had caused the US government to promise American food supplies only on condition that in Germany the power of the Workers‘ and Soldiers‘ Councils is abolished and the capitalist social order remains secure.

/typo3/4 „Nur die Demokratie kann uns retten!“ (Only democracy can save us!) in Abend-Vorwärts, No. 328a from November 29, 1918.

5 Ibid.

6 See Friedrich Stampfer: „Die Wahlen zur Nationalversammlung,“ (Elections for the National Assembly) in Abend-Vorwärts, No. 329a from November 30, 1918.

7 See: „Die Soldaten für die Nationalversammlung,“ (The Soldiers for the National Assembly) in Vorwärts, No. 330 from December 1, 1918. - On November 29, 1918, the meeting of Greatberlin’s Soldiers' Councils voted for the National Assembly and its convention on February 16, 1919 by two counter votes.

First published in: Die Rote Fahne (Berlin), Nr. 18 vom 3. Dezember 1918.

Quotes taken from Rosa Luxemburg: Gesammelte Werke, Bd. 4., August 1914 bis Januar 1919, Berlin, S. 427-430.

* 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.