The Socialization of Society*

Rosa Luxemburg on 4 December 1918

The proletarian revolution that has just begun can have no other goal and no other outcome than the realization of socialism. The working class must seek above all else to take the entirety of the state’s political power into its own hands. But for us socialists, political power is only a tool. The goal for which we must use this power is the transformation of all economic conditions from the ground up.

              Today all the wealth belongs to a few Junkers and private capitalists: all the largest and the best estates as well as the mines, plants and factories. For their hard work, the great mass of the workers receives only a meager wage for living from the Junkers and capitalists. The purpose of today’s economy is the enrichment of a small number of idlers.

              This situation should to be done away with. All social wealth, the ground and soil with all the treasures stored in its depths and on its surface, all the factories and plants must be taken out of the control of the exploiters as the common property of the people. The first duty of a real worker’s government is to declare, through a series of decrees, the most important means of production as national property and to put them under social control.

              Only then, however, will the actual and most difficult task begin: the construction of the economy on an entirely new basis.

              Today, production in every enterprise is run according to the initiative of the individual capitalist. The entrepreneur determines what is to be produced and how, or where, when and how the goods produced should be sold. The workers do have anything to do with this, since, after all, they are merely living machines tasked with carrying out their work.

              All this must be different in the socialist economy! The private entrepreneur will disappear. Production will no longer be aimed toward the enrichment of individuals, but will aim to provide the community with the means of satisfying its every need. Accordingly, agricultural enterprises must be reorganized along completely new lines:

              First: If production is to have the goal of ensuring a humane and dignified life for everyone, of generously providing nourishment, clothing and other cultural means of existence to everyone, then the productivity of labor will have to be much greater than it is today. The fields must produce a much bigger harvest, the most advanced technology must be used in the factories, only the richest coal and ore mines must be exploited, etc. It follows from this that socialization will spread above all in the large enterprises of industry and agriculture. We do not need and do not want to take that bit of property away from small-scale farmers and craftsmen who eke out a living by their own labor, on a small piece of land or in their workshop. In time, they will all come to us voluntarily and learn to recognize the advantages of socialism over private property.

              Second: In order for everyone in society to be prosperous, everyone must work. Only those who perform useful labor for the community, be it manual or mental labor, may demand that society provide them with the means of satisfying their needs. A life of idleness, the kind usually led by the rich exploiters today, will end. A general work requirement for everyone able to work will be a matter of course in the socialist economy, with the exception, of course, of young children, the aged and the sick. The community must readily provide care for those unable to work – not, as is the case today, with miserable handouts, but with abundant food, social education for children, comfortable accommodation for the elderly, public healthcare for the sick and so on.

              Thirdly, the means of production, like the workforce, must be used frugally and economically out of the same considerations – that is, for the sake of the general welfare. The waste we see at every turn today must stop. We must therefore abolish the industry of war and armaments entirely, because a socialist society does not need any murder weapons, and the precious materials and labor used in their production must be spent on useful production instead. The luxury industries, which produce all kinds of extravagancies for wealthy do-nothings, will also need to come to an end, as will the keeping of personal servants. All the people employed in these industries will find a more useful and dignified occupation.

              If we thus create a nation of workers, where everyone works for everyone, for the general welfare and benefit of all, then, fourthly, work itself must be organized in a completely different way. Work today, whether in industry or in agriculture or in an office, is usually an agony and a burden for the proletarian. One only goes to work because one has to, as otherwise one will not obtain the means to live. When working in socialist society, where everyone will work for their own wellbeing, it will naturally be crucial to make the greatest allowance for health and the desire to work. We must introduce healthy working spaces, short working hours that do not exceed one’s normal capacity, and all the means of recreation and variety at work that allow everyone to do his part with pleasure and love.

              But there is a corresponding human material that is part of all these great reforms. Today, the capitalist stands behind the worker with his whip – be it the capitalist himself, or his foremen or supervisors. Hunger drives the proletarian into the factory, to work for the Junker or the industrial farmer, or into the office. The entrepreneur then makes sure that no one wastes time, or wastes the materials, and that good and competent work is done.

              In the socialist economy, the entrepreneur and his whip will fall by the wayside. Here, workers are free and equal people who work for their own wellbeing and benefit. That means, simply, to work for oneself, to work diligently on one’s own initiative, without wasting the wealth of society and while yielding realistic and punctual work. Every socialist enterprise will of course need its technical managers who understand the business with precision, who can arrange what is necessary for everything to run smoothly, in order to reach the most appropriate division of labor and the highest performance. That means following these directions willingly and completely, maintaining discipline and order without provoking conflict or confusion. 

              In a word: The worker in the socialist economy must prove that he can work in a diligent and orderly manner, maintain discipline and do his best without the lash of hunger, without the capitalist and his lackeys standing behind him. This calls for self-discipline, mental maturity and moral seriousness. This requires a sense of dignity and responsibility, a whole new inner rebirth for the proletarian.

              No socialism can be created with people who are lazy, careless, egoistic, ungrateful and indifferent. A socialist society requires people all full of enthusiasm and fervor for the common good, full of compassion and a willingness to make sacrifices for fellow human beings, full of the courage and determination to venture on the most difficult tasks.

              But we do not need to wait centuries or decades for such a race of human beings to develop. Right at this very moment, in the struggle and in the revolution, the proletarian masses are absorbing the idealism and they need and acquiring this mental maturity. And, in order to lead the revolution on to victory, we also still need courage and endurance, inner clarity and a will to sacrifice. By recruiting capable fighters for today’s revolution, we are creating the socialist workers of the future as they are needed for the foundation of a new order.

              The working youth are called on especially for these great tasks. As the next generation, they will form the true foundation of the socialist economy. It is now up to them to show that they can rise to meet the great task as the bearers of the future of humanity. There still remains an entire old world to overturn and a completely new one to build. But we will do it, my young friends, won’t we? We will do it! As the song goes:

              We lack for nothing, my wife, my child,

              as everything that through us thrives,

              in order to be free as birds:

              we just need time!

First published in: Die junge Garde (Berlin), Nr. 2 vom 4. Dezember 1918; z.T. unter anderem Titel erschienen auch in der «Hamburger Volkszeitung», in der «Jugend-Internationale»(Stuttgart) und im «Volksblatt» (Halle/Saale).

Quotes taken from Rosa Luxemburg: Gesammelte Werke, Bd. 4., August 1914 bis Januar 1919, Berlin, S. 431-434.

* 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.