The Reich Conference of the Spartacus League*

Rosa Luxemburg on 29 December 1918

Tomorrow, representatives from the most hated, the most slandered, the most hunted political movement, the Spartacus League, will gather together from all over Germany. Proud and confident, they will gather for brief counsel under their storm-tested flag to decide their aims and path going forward, with the hot breath of the revolution all around them.

     Just as once upon a time in Flanders the word “Geuzen”, or beggar, became the symbol of a merciless revolutionary fight, so has the name “Spartacist’’ become a symbol of unrelenting proletarian energy in Germany today, a symbol of unswerving adherence to the goals of socialism, of everything hated to death, as an abomination, by the ruling classes and capitalist society.

     The league looks back over a brief but tumultuous past. The collapse of German social democracy on August 4, 1914, was the hour in which Spartacus was born. The crashing bankruptcy of conventional party tactics, its shameful betrayal of the most sacred duty and honoured tasks of socialism in the great hour of decision immediately brought the open and ruthless rebellion of the Spartacists against the plan. They held the first public protest against the official party’s disgrace as early as August 1914, which was published in the Italian, English and Dutch press and called out loudly to the socialist international: Have hope and pull yourselves together! There are still socialists in Germany!

     While the working masses, frozen in the hypnosis of war’s frenzy, still watched the victorious onrush of imperialism passively or even jubilantly, and as a leaden cemetery silence lay over the party after its suicide on August 4, it was these same Spartacists who ran the first conferences in Stuttgart, Frankfurt am Main and Leipzig, who gave the first signals to gather against the official party, who sparked the first conflicts face to face with the traitors of socialism and the international.

     The small flock fought tirelessly under a state of siege in the sabre dictatorship, at the Reichstag’s podium, in the newspaper Internationale, in the Junius brochure, in flyers, in order to save the honour of the German proletariat, to rouse the masses to kindle the sacred sparks of revolutionary idealism into a fire.

     Persecution fell on the troublemakers thickly, like hail. One after another disappeared from the scene for years, filled up the prisons and the jails or were sent off from the shop floor into the trenches. But if only one remained free, the flock immediately began to form from scratch, and the underground work continued – the hard subversive work to undermine the old edifice of imperialism.

     And the gang integrated itself ever more broadly and closely with the proletarian masses. While the Independents, after two years of collaborating with the Judases of the labour movement, broke away from them hesitant and vacillating, only in order to stubbornly take up the rotten and bankrupt traditions of the old Social Democracy and its parliamentary shadow life, the Spartacists paved the way for the new revolutionary tactics: for extra-parliamentary mass action, they tirelessly reminded and called for mass strikes until the first successes strengthened and raised their self-confidence and the workers’ fighting courage.

     After every attempt the waves of the struggle, which had hardly been moved at all, fell and levelled out, and a leaden calm seemed to take hold of the spirit of the masses. This was the work of an iron will and a faith that moves mountains, one which wouldn’t let up for a single day in these four and a quarter years, which wouldn’t give up the unflagging work of mining and digging, which refused to fall into cosy pessimism towards the “German masses,’’ which served as a cheap excuse for the Independents’ own laziness.

     The Spartacists never despaired, just as they never hesitated. They whistled cheerfully in their barred cells as they had at work, in the trenches as they had in the conspiratorial counselling quarters where informants were sniffing around and bloodhounds surrounded them. They sharpened their arrows, spread their flyers, tugged roughly at the conscience of the masses, boldly threw the gauntlet over and over in the face of the jubilant colossus of imperialism.

     When the colossus fell crashing to the ground from its clay feet on the 9th of November, the German proletariat finally stood up to its full height and the Revolution began.

     The bourgeoisie also began a crusade starting from the first day of the Revolution – the petty bourgeoisie, the military brass, the Ebert and Scheidemann clique: all the counter-revolutionary elements opposed to the Spartacus League. That was what it got for fulfilling its duty under the sabre dictatorship of imperialism, what was at the same time the reliable instinct of the guardians of a threatened capitalist social order, aiming all its poisoned arrows where it sensed the beating heart of the proletarian revolution.

     The mortal enemies of the proletariat and socialism have not been betrayed by their instincts. The Spartacus League has a special role to play in the German Revolution, a task of great responsibility, a high duty.

     A yawning abyss separates the League from the stooges of the exploiters and the oppressors, from the blood-spattered Ebert-Scheidemann clique – the League nothing to offer them but a clenched fist.

     An abyss also separates it from the Independents who have managed, in the five weeks of the Revolution, to develop not forwards but backwards, from the wartime do-nothing critics of Scheidemann’s prostitution into active participants in this prostitution, offering a hand to the Ebert-Scheidemann clique to work together in coups d’état, intrigues and graves, infamies and pools of blood. Even tomorrow they may finally cut themselves from the shameful gang of the Ebert government under the pressure of general scorn and their own moral collapse. The word for them is: too late! They are finished as far as the Revolution and the proletariat are concerned. Their path leads off into the morass of the counter-revolution to which they have so long offered their helping hand.

     But a boundary also separates us from the wavering, hesitant members of the USP, who have been embittered by the long fall of Haase, Dittmann and comrades and yet never found the courage or the backbone to denounce them openly, or to begin their great reckoning with the masses, setting them against the alternative resolution of the counter-revolution or their expulsion from the ranks of the fighting proletariat.

     Revolutions do not admit of any half measures, any compromises, any tiptoeing or cowering. Revolutions require showing one’s face, having clear principles, committed hearts and whole men.

     Today’s revolution, which is only in its first stage of development, which has enormous prospects before it and world-historical problems to overcome, must have an infallible compass to pointing unfailingly towards the same grand goals, in every stage of its fight, in every victory and defeat: towards the socialist world revolution, toward the relentless power struggle of the proletariat for humanity’s liberation from the yoke of capital.

     This compass, this wedge, pointing and pushing to be the socialist, proletarian yeast of the revolution – that is the specific task of the Spartacus League in the current struggle between two worlds.

     History is the only true teacher of the proletariat and revolution is its best school. They will assure that the “little flock” of the most slandered and most persecuted will, step by step, become what its worldview affirms in it: the fighting and triumphing masses of the revolutionary socialist proletariat.

First published in: Die Rote Fahne (Berlin), No. 43 from 29 December 1918.

* This is a draft version translated by Zachary Murphy King. 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.