The National Assembly*

Rosa Luxemburg on 20 November 1918

     From the Deutsche Tageszeitung, the Vossische and the Vorwärts to the independent Freiheit, from Reventlow, Erzberger, Scheidemann to Haase and Kautsky, there is a unanimous call for the National Assembly and an equally unanimous cry of fear of the idea: power in the hands of the working class.

     The whole "people," the whole "nation" is to be called to decide the fate of the revolution by majority decision.

     For the open and disguised agents of the ruling classes, the slogan is understood. We discuss neither in the National Assembly nor about the National Assembly with the guardians of the capitalist safes.

     But independent leaders are also in line with the guardians of capital on this crucial issue.

     They want to spare the revolution, as Hilferding explains in Freiheit,1 the use of violence, the civil war with all its horrors. Petit bourgeois illusions! They imagine the course of the most powerful social revolution since humanity existed in the form that different social classes come together, have a nice, calm and "worthy" discussion with each other, then organize a vote - perhaps even with the famous "Hammelsprung."2 Then when the capitalist class sees that it is in the minority, it declares as a well-disciplined parliamentary party with a sigh: "Nothing we can do! We realize that we have been outvoted. Well, we submit and hand over all our lands, factories, mines, all our fireproof cash registers and nice profits to the workers.

     Truly, the families of Lamartine, Garnier, Pagès, Ledru-Rollin, the petty-bourgeois illusionists and gossipers from 1848 are not extinct; they rise again - without the glory and talent and charm of novelty - in the boring-pedantic scholarly German edition of the Kautsky, Hilferding, Haase.

     These profound Marxists have forgotten the Abc of socialism.

     They have forgotten that the bourgeoisie is not a parliamentary party but a ruling class in possession of all economic and social power.

     These gentlemen Junker and capitalists are only quiet as long as the revolutionary government is content to stick small beauty pads on the capitalist wage relationship. They are only well-behaving as long as the revolution is well-behaving, i.e., as long as the lifeblood, the artery of bourgeois class rule - capitalist private property, the wage ratio, profit - remains undisturbed.

     When profit is at stake, private property is delivered to the knife, then the coziness ceases.

     Today's idyll, where wolves and sheep, tigers and lambs graze peacefully side by side like in Noah's Ark, lasts until the minute socialism becomes serious.

     As soon as the famous National Assembly really decides to fully implement socialism, to eradicate capital rule with stump and stalk, the struggle begins as well. When the bourgeoisie is struck in the heart - and its heart beats in the safe-deposit box - it will fight for death and life for its rule, piling up a thousand open and hidden resistances against the socialist measures.

     All this is inevitable. All this must be fought through, fought off, fought down - with or without the National Assembly. The "civil war," which one seeks to banish from the revolution with fearful concern, cannot be banished. For civil war is just another name for class struggle, and the idea of introducing socialism without class struggle, by parliamentary majority decision is a ridiculous petty-bourgeois illusion.  

     So what is the benefit of this cowardly detour of the National Assembly? One strengthens the position of the bourgeoisie, one weakens and confuses the proletariat through empty illusions, one waste and loses time and energy on "discussions" between wolf and lamb. In a word, one works into the hands of all those elements whose purpose and intention is to deceive the proletarian revolution about its socialist goals, to emasculate them into a bourgeois-democratic revolution.

     But the question of the National Assembly is not a question of opportunity, not of greater "convenience." It is a question of principle, a question of the socialist self-knowledge of the revolution.

     In the Great French Revolution, the first decisive step was taken in July 1789, when the three separate estates united to form a common National Assembly. This decision has put a stamp on the whole course of events; it was the symbol of the victory of a new, bourgeois social order over the medieval feudal estate-based society.  

     Likewise - as a symbol of the new socialist social order, whose bearer is the present proletarian revolution – arises from the class character of its actual task also the class character of the political organ that is to carry out the task: the worker's parliament, the representation of the urban and rural proletariat.

     The National Assembly is a surviving heirloom of bourgeois revolutions, a shell without content, a prop from the times of petty-bourgeois illusions of the "united people," of the "freedom, equality and brotherhood" of the bourgeois state.

     Those who today turn to the National Assembly are consciously or unconsciously turning back the revolution to the historical stage of bourgeois revolutions; they are disguised agents of the bourgeoisie or unconscious ideologist of the petty bourgeoisie.

     The struggle for the National Assembly is fought under the battle cry: democracy or dictatorship. This slogan of counterrevolutionary demagogy is also obediently adopted by socialist leaders without realizing that the alternative is a demagogic falsification.

     That is not what this is about today, whether democracy or dictatorship. The question put on the agenda by history is: bourgeois democracy or socialist democracy. For dictatorship of the proletariat is democracy in the socialist sense. The dictatorship of the proletariat is not bombs, coups, riots, "anarchy", as the agents of capitalist profit purposefully counterfeit, but rather the use of all political means of power for the realization of socialism, for the expropriation of the capitalist class - in the sense and through the will of the revolutionary majority of the proletariat, that is, in the spirit of socialist democracy.

     No socialism without the conscious will and act of the majority of the proletariat! A class organ is necessary to sharpen this consciousness, to steel this will, to organize this act: the Reich parliament of the proletarians in town and country.

     The convening of such a workers' representation in place of the traditional national assembly of the bourgeois revolutions is in itself an act of class struggle, a break with the historical past of bourgeois society, a powerful means of shaking up the proletarian masses of people, a first open and harsh declaration of war on capitalism.

     No excuses, no ambiguities - the dice must fall. Parliamentary cretinism was a weakness yesterday, is ambiguous today, will be a betrayal of socialism tomorrow.

1 See R. H.: „Revolutionäres Vertrauen!“ (Revolutionary Confidence) in Die Freiheit (Berlin), No. 6 from November 18, 1918.

2 The so-called "Hammelsprung" [literally, wether’s leap] was a voting procedure in Parliament, in which the voters had to leave the room and entered it again through three different doors - each for yes, no and abstention - and were counted. This procedure is better known as division of the assembly.


First published in Die Rote Fahne (Berlin), No. 5 from November 20, 1918.

Quotes taken from Rosa Luxemburg’s Gesammelte Werke, Vol. 4, pp. 407-10.

* 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.