94 years ago today Rosa Luxemburg was murdered. She was one of the great leaders in the history of the socialist movement internationally – a fierce opponent of imperialist war, suffering in jail for her opposition to the carnage of World War One, an original and innovative economist, a theorist of workers’ democracy.
Her book Reform or Revolution remains the classic statement of the case for revolution. Her writings on the mass strike –as fresh today as when they were first written – study how workers’ economic activities lead into political struggles, and how the self-activity of workers in the form of mass strike action is key to democratic, socialist revolution. Her acute analysis of the Russian Revolution – written with warm, but critical, solidarity – contains many insights still of vital relevance.
For a short introduction to Luxemburg’s life and works, this article from Simon Olley on ‘The Legacy of Rosa Luxemburg’ is a good place to start. Tony Cliff’s book on Luxemburg is a classic too, and was one of the first English-language texts to give her work detailed attention.
We are building an organisation in the democratic, socialist tradition of Rosa Luxemburg, and honour her memory.
Here is the last piece she ever published, reflecting on the failures of the German Revolution and looking to the work ahead. Her tasks are unfinished – the revolutionary socialist movement internationally must carry them on.
What does the entire history of socialism and of all modern revolutions show us? The first spark of class struggle in Europe, the revolt of the silk weavers in Lyon in 1831, ended with a heavy defeat; the Chartist movement in Britain ended in defeat; the uprising of the Parisian proletariat in the June days of 1848 ended with a crushing defeat; and the Paris commune ended with a terrible defeat. The whole road of socialism – so far as revolutionary struggles are concerned – is paved with nothing but thunderous defeats. Yet, at the same time, history marches inexorably, step by step, toward final victory! Where would we be today without those “defeats,” from which we draw historical experience, understanding, power and idealism? Today, as we advance into the final battle of the proletarian class war, we stand on the foundation of those very defeats; and we can do without any of them, because each one contributes to our strength and understanding.
The revolutionary struggle is the very antithesis of the parliamentary struggle. In Germany, for four decades we had nothing but parliamentary “victories.” We practically walked from victory to victory. And when faced with the great historical test of August 4, 1914, the result was the devastating political and moral defeat, an outrageous debacle and rot without parallel. To date, revolutions have given us nothing but defeats. Yet these unavoidable defeats pile up guarantee upon guarantee of the future final victory.
There is but one condition. The question of why each defeat occurred must be answered. Did it occur because the forward-storming combative energy of the masses collided with the barrier of unripe historical conditions, or was it that indecision, vacillation, and internal frailty crippled the revolutionary impulse itself?
Classic examples of both cases are the February revolution in France on the one hand and the March revolution in Germany on the other. The courage of the Parisian proletariat in the year 1848 has become a fountain of energy for the class struggle of the entire international proletariat. The deplorable events of the German March revolution of the same year have weighed down the whole development of modern Germany like a ball and chain. In the particular history of official German Social Democracy, they have reverberated right up into the most recent developments in the German revolution and on into the dramatic crisis we have just experienced.
How does the defeat of “Spartacus week” appear in the light of the above historical question? Was it a case of raging, uncontrollable revolutionary energy colliding with an insufficiently ripe situation, or was it a case of weak and indecisive action?
Both! The crisis had a dual nature. The contradiction between the powerful, decisive, aggressive offensive of the Berlin masses on the one hand and the indecisive, half-hearted vacillation of the Berlin leadership on the other is the mark of this latest episode. The leadership failed. But a new leadership can and must be created by the masses and from the masses. The masses are the crucial factor. They are the rock on which the ultimate victory of the revolution will be built. The masses were up to the challenge, and out of this “defeat” they have forged a link in the chain of historic defeats, which is the pride and strength of international socialism. That is why future victories will spring from this “defeat.”
“Order prevails in Berlin!” You foolish lackeys! Your “order” is built on sand. Tomorrow the revolution will “rise up again, clashing its weapons,” and to your horror it will proclaim with trumpets blazing:
I was, I am, I shall be!