The War and the Workers ("Junius Pamphlet")
- 1 [The voting of war credits in August 1914 was a shattering moment in the life of individual socialists and of the socialist movement in Europe. Those who had worked for and wholly believed in the ability of organized labor to stand against war now saw the major social democratic parties of Germany, France, and England rush to the defense of their fatherlands. Worker solidarity had proved an impotent myth. Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) had for years warned against the stultifying effects of the overly bureaucratized German Social Democratic Party and the anti-revolutionary tendencies of the trade unions that played such a large role in the party's policy decisions. The abdication of 1914 had proved her right but had also dashed the revolutionary yearnings of a lifetime. While she was able to construct new hope from the revolutionary opportunities presented by the war, Luxemburg could not shake the knowledge that, whatever the outcome, the European working class would pay the greatest price in blood and suffering. Thrice handicapped--a woman, a Pole, and a Jew--Luxemburg was the most eloquent voice of the left wing of German Social Democracy, the defender of Marxist purity against all comers, and a constant advocate of radical action. She spent much of the war in jail, where she wrote and then smuggled out the pamphlet excerpted below. Published under the name "Junius," perhaps a reference to Lucius Junius Brutus, a legendary republican hero of ancient Rome, the pamphlet became the guiding statement for the International Group, which became the Spartacus League and ultimately the Communist Party of Germany (January 1, 1919). Luxemburg was instrumental in these developments and, along with Karl Liebknecht (1871-1919), led the Spartacists until their murder by right-wing vigilantes on January 15, 1919. Source: Günter Radczun (ed.), "Die Krise der Sozialdemokratie (Junius-Broschüre)," in Rosa Luxemburg, Politische Schriften (Leipzig, 1970), pp. 229-43, 357-72. Translated by Richard S. Levy.]
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The scene has changed fundamentally. The six weeks' march to Paris has grown into a world drama. Mass slaughter has become the tiresome and monotonous business of the day and the end is no closer. Bourgeois statecraft is held fast in its own vise. The spirits summoned up can no longer be exorcised.
Gone is the euphoria. Gone the patriotic noise in the streets, the
chase after the gold-colored automobile, one false telegram after
another, the wells poisoned by cholera, the Russian students
heaving bombs over every railway bridge in Berlin, the French
airplanes over Nuremberg, the spy hunting public running amok in
the streets, the swaying crowds in the coffee shops with
ear-deafening patriotic songs surging ever higher, whole city
neighborhoods transformed into mobs ready to denounce, to mistreat
women, to shout hurrah and to induce delirium in themselves by
means of wild rumors. Gone, too, is the atmosphere of ritual
murder, the Kishinev air where the crossing guard is the only
remaining representative of human dignity.
The spectacle is over. German scholars, those "stumbling lemurs,"
have been whistled off the stage long ago. The trains full of
reservists are no longer accompanied by virgins fainting from pure
jubilation. They no longer greet the people from the windows of
the train with joyous smiles. Carrying their packs, they quietly
trot along the streets where the public goes about its daily
business with aggrieved visages.
In the prosaic atmosphere of pale day there sounds a different
chorus--the hoarse cries of the vulture and the hyenas of the
battlefield. Ten thousand tarpaulins guaranteed up to regulations!
A hundred thousand kilos of bacon, cocoa powder, coffee-substitute
--c.o.d, immediate delivery! Hand grenades, lathes, cartridge
pouches, marriage bureaus for widows of the fallen, leather belts,
jobbers for war orders--serious offers only! The cannon fodder
loaded onto trains in August and September is moldering in the
killing fields of Belgium, the Vosges, and Masurian Lakes where the
profits are springing up like weeds. It's a question of getting
the harvest into the barn quickly. Across the ocean stretch
thousands of greedy hands to snatch it up.
Business thrives in the ruins. Cities become piles of ruins;
villages become cemeteries; countries, deserts; populations are
beggared; churches, horse stalls. International law, treaties and
alliances, the most sacred words and the highest authority have
been torn in shreds. Every sovereign "by the grace of God" is
called a rogue and lying scoundrel by his cousin on the other side.
Every diplomat is a cunning rascal to his colleagues in the other
party. Every government sees every other as dooming its own people
and worthy only of universal contempt. There are food riots in
Venice, in Lisbon, Moscow, Singapore. There is plague in Russia,
and misery and despair everywhere.
Violated, dishonored, wading in blood, dripping filth--there stands
bourgeois society. This is it [in reality]. Not all spic and span
and moral, with pretense to culture, philosophy, ethics, order,
peace, and the rule of law--but the ravening beast, the witches'
sabbath of anarchy, a plague to culture and humanity. Thus it
reveals itself in its true, its naked form.
In the midst of this witches' sabbath a catastrophe of
world-historical proportions has happened: International Social
Democracy has capitulated. To deceive ourselves about it, to cover
it up, would be the most foolish, the most fatal thing the
proletariat could do. Marx says: "...the democrat (that is, the
petty bourgeois revolutionary) [comes] out of the most shameful
defeats as unmarked as he naively went into them; he comes away
with the newly gained conviction that he must be victorious, not
that he or his party ought to give up the old principles, but that
conditions ought to accommodate him." The modern proletariat
comes out of historical tests differently. Its tasks and its
errors are both gigantic: no prescription, no schema valid for
every case, no infallible leader to show it the path to follow.
Historical experience is its only school mistress. Its thorny way
to self-emancipation is paved not only with immeasurable suffering
but also with countless errors. The aim of its journey--its
emancipation depends on this--is whether the proletariat can learn
from its own errors. Self-criticism, remorseless, cruel, and going
to the core of things is the life's breath and light of the
proletarian movement. The fall of the socialist proletariat in the
present world war is unprecedented. It is a misfortune for
humanity. But socialism will be lost only if the international
proletariat fails to measure the depth of this fall, if it refuses
to learn from it.
The last forty-five year period in the development of the modern
labor movement now stands in doubt. What we are experiencing in
this critique is a closing of accounts for what will soon be half
a century of work at our posts. The grave of the Paris Commune
ended the first phase of the European labor movement as well as the
First International. Since then there began a new phase. In
place of spontaneous revolutions, risings, and barricades, after
which the proletariat each time fell back into passivity, there
began the systematic daily struggle, the exploitation of bourgeois
parliamentarianism, mass organizations, the marriage of the
economic with the political struggle, and that of socialist ideals
with stubborn defense of immediate daily interests. For the first
time the polestar of strict scientific teachings lit the way for
the proletariat and for its emancipation. Instead of sects,
schools, utopias, and isolated experiments in various countries,
there arose a uniform, international theoretical basis which bound
countries together like the strands of a rope. Marxist knowledge
gave the working class of the entire world a compass by which it
can make sense of the welter of daily events and by which it can
always plot the right course to take to the fixed and final goal.
She who bore, championed, and protected this new method was German
Social Democracy. The [Franco-Prussian] War and the defeat of the
Paris Commune had shifted the center of gravity for the European
workers' movement to Germany. As France was the classic site of
the first phase of proletarian class struggle and Paris the
beating, bleeding heart of the European laboring classes of those
times, so the German workers became the vanguard of the second
phase. By means of countless sacrifices and tireless attention to
detail, they have built the strongest organization, the one most
worthy of emulation; they created the biggest press, called the
most effective means of education and enlightenment into being,
gathered the most powerful masses of voters and attained the
greatest number of parliamentary mandates. German Social Democracy
was considered the purest embodiment of Marxist socialism. She had
and laid claim to a special place in the Second International--its
instructress and leader. 
In his famous 1895 foreword to Marx's The Class Struggles in
France, 1848-1850, Friedrich Engels wrote:
No matter what happens in other countries, German Social
Democracy has a special position and therefore a special task, at least for the time being. The two million voters it sends to the ballot box, and the young men and women who, although non-voters, stand behind them, constitute the most numerous and compact mass, the"decisive force" of the proletarian army.
German Social Democracy, as the Vienna Arbeiterzeitung wrote on
August 5, 1914, was "the jewel of class-conscious proletarian
organizations." In her footsteps trod the increasingly
enthusiastic Social Democrats of France, Italy, and Belgium, the
labor movements of Holland, Scandinavia, Switzerland, and the
United States. The Slavic countries, the Russians, the Social
Democrats of the Balkans looked upon [German Social Democracy] with
limitless, nearly uncritical, admiration. In the Second
International the German "decisive force" played the determining
role. At the [international] congresses, in the meetings of the
international socialist bureaus, all awaited the opinion of the
Germans. Especially in the questions of the struggle against
militarism and war, German Social Democracy always took the lead.
"For us Germans that is unacceptable" regularly sufficed to decide
the orientation of the Second International, which blindly bestowed
its confidence upon the admired leadership of the mighty German
Social Democracy: the pride of every socialist and the terror of
the ruling classes everywhere.
And what did we in Germany experience when the great historical
test came? The most precipitous fall, the most violent collapse.
Nowhere has the organization of the proletariat been yoked so
completely to the service of imperialism. Nowhere is the state of
siege borne so docilely. Nowhere is the press so hobbled,
public opinion so stifled, the economic and political class
struggle of the working class so totally surrendered as in Germany.
But German Social Democracy was not merely the strongest vanguard
troop, it was the thinking head of the International. For this
reason, we must begin the analysis, the self-examination process,
with its fall. It has the duty to begin the salvation of
international socialism, that means unsparing criticism of itself.
None of the other parties, none of the other classes of bourgeois
society, may look clearly and openly into the mirror of their own
errors, their own weaknesses, for the mirror reflects their
historical limitations and the historical doom that awaits them.
The working class can boldly look truth straight in the face, even
the bitterest self-renunciation, for its weaknesses are only
confusion. The strict law of history gives back its power, stands
guarantee for its final victory.
Unsparing self-criticism is not merely an essential for its
existence but the working class' supreme duty. On our ship we have
the most valuable treasures of mankind, and the proletariat is
their ordained guardian! And while bourgeois society, shamed and
dishonored by the bloody orgy, rushes headlong toward its doom, the
international proletariat must and will gather up the golden
treasure that, in a moment of weakness and confusion in the chaos
of the world war, it has allowed to sink to the ground.
One thing is certain. The world war is a turning point. It is
foolish and mad to imagine that we need only survive the war, like
a rabbit waiting out the storm under a bush, in order to fall
happily back into the old routine once it is over. The world war
has altered the conditions of our struggle and, most of all, it has
changed us. Not that the basic law of capitalist development, the
life-and-death war between capital and labor, will experience any
amelioration. But now, in the midst of the war, the masks are
falling and the old familiar visages smirk at us. The tempo of
development has received a mighty jolt from the eruption of the
volcano of imperialism. The violence of the conflicts in the bosom
of society, the enormousness of the tasks that tower up before the
socialist proletariat--these make everything that has transpired in
the history of the workers' movement seem a pleasant idyll.
Historically, this war was ordained to thrust forward the cause of
the proletariat....It was ordained to drive the German proletariat
to the pinnacle of the nation and thereby begin to organize the
international and universal conflict between capital and labor for
political power within the state.
And did we envision a different role for the working class in the
world war? Let us recall how we, only a short while ago, were
accustomed to describe the future:
Then comes the catastrophe. Then the great
mobilization will take place in Europe; 16-18 million men, the flower of the various nations, armed with the best tools of death, will enter the field as enemies. But, I am convinced, that behind the great mobilization there stands the great havoc. It will not come through our agency, but rather yours. You are driving things to the limit. You are leading us to catastrophe. You will reap what you have sown. The Götterdämmerung of the bourgeois world approaches. Believe it! It isapproaching! [All italics are Luxemburg's.]
Thus spoke our leader, [August] Bebel, during the Reichstag debate
on the Morocco Crisis. </a>
Imperialism or Socialism?, the official party pamphlet
distributed in hundreds of thousands of copies a few years ago,
closes with these words:
Thus the struggle against imperialism develops ever more
into the decisive struggle between capital and labor. War crises, rising prices, capitalism vs. peace, welfare for all, socialism! Thus is the question stated. History is moving toward great decisions. The proletariat must work unceasingly at its world-historical task, strengthen its organization, the clarity of its understanding. Then come what may, be it that [proletarian] power spares mankind the terrible cruelty of a world war, or be it that the capitalist world sinks into history in the same way as it was born, in blood and violence. [In either case] the historical hour will find the working class prepared--and preparation iseverything. [All italics are Luxemburg's.]
The official Handbook for Social-Democratic Voters (1911), for
the last Reichstag election, says on p. 42 concerning the expected
Do our rulers and ruling classes expect the peoples to
permit this awful thing? Will not a cry of horror, of scorn, of outrage not seize the peoples and cause them to put an end to this murder? Will they not ask: For whom? what's it all for? Are we mentally disturbed to be treated this way, to allow ourselves to be so treated? He who is calmly convinced of the probability of a great European war can come to no other conclusion than the following: The next European war will be such a desperate gamble as the world has never seen. In allprobability it will be the last war.
With speeches and words such as these, our current Reichstag
deputies acquired their 110 mandates.
In the summer of 1911, when the Panther made its lunge to Agadir and the noisy agitation of the German imperialists put war in
the immediate offing, an international meeting in London accepted
the following resolution (August 4, 1911):
The delegates of the German, Spanish, English, Dutch, and
French workers' organizations declare themselves to be ready to oppose any declaration of war with all the means at their disposal. Every represented nation undertakes the obligation, according to the resolutions of national and international congresses, to act against allcriminal machinations of the ruling classes.
When, in November 1912, the congress of the International met in
the minster at Basel and when the long procession of worker
representatives entered the cathedral, everyone present felt a
presentiment of the greatness of the coming destiny and a heroic
The cool, skeptical Victor Adler spoke:
Comrades, the most important thing is that we are here at
the common source of our strength, that we can draw from this strength so that each can do in his own country what he can, according to the forms and means that we have, to oppose the crime of war with all the power we possess. And if it can be stopped, if it is really stopped, then we must see to it that it becomes a cornerstone for the end [of bourgeois society]. This is the moving spirit for the whole International. And if murder and arson and pestilence are unleashed throughout civilized Europe--we can only think of this with horror, outrage and indignation churning in our breasts. And we ask ourselves: are we men, are the proletarians of today still sheep that they can be led dumbly toslaughter?....
And [Jean] Jaures concluded the reading of the International
Bureau's manifesto against the war with these words:
The International represents all the moral force of the
world! And if the tragic hour strikes and we must give ourselves up to it, the consciousness of this will support and strengthen us. We do not merely say "no" but from the depth of our hearts we declare ourselvesready to sacrifice everything.
It was reminiscent of the Oath of Ruetli. The world directed
its gaze to the church at Basel where the bell sounded solemnly for
the future great battle between the army of labor and the power of
Even a week before the outbreak of war, on July 26, 1914, German
party newspapers wrote:
We are not marionettes. We combat with all our energy
a system that makes men into will-less tools of blind circumstance, this capitalism that seeks to transform a Europe thirsting for peace into a steaming slaughterhouse. If destruction has its way, if the united will to peace of the German, the international proletariat, which will make itself known in powerful demonstrations in the coming days, if the world war cannot be fended off, then at least this should be the last war, it should become the Götterdämmerung ofcapitalism. (Frankfurter Volksstimme)
Then on July 30, 1914, the central organ of German Social Democracy
The socialist proletariat rejects any responsibility for
the events being brought about by a blinded, a maddened ruling class. Let it be known that a new life shall bloom from the ruins. All responsibility falls to the wielders of power today! It is "to be or not to be!""World-history is the world-court!"
And then came the unheard of, the unprecedented, the 4th of August
Did it have to come? An event of this scope is certainly no game
of chance. It must have deep and wide-reaching objective causes.
These causes can, however, also lie in the errors of the leader of
the proletariat, the Social Democrats, in the waning of our
fighting spirit, our courage, and loyalty to our convictions.
Scientific socialism has taught us to comprehend the objective laws
of historical development. Men do not make history according to
their own free will. But they make history nonetheless.
Proletarian action is dependent upon the degree of maturity in
social development. However, social development is not independent
of the proletariat but is equally its driving force and cause, its
effect and consequence. [Proletarian] action participates in
history. And while we can as little skip a stage of historical
development as escape our shadow, we can certainly accelerate or
Socialism is the first popular movement in world history that has
set itself the goal of bringing human consciousness, and thereby
free will, into play in the social actions of mankind. For this
reason, Friedrich Engels designated the final victory of the
socialist proletariat a leap of humanity from the animal world into
the realm of freedom. This "leap" is also an iron law of history
bound to the thousands of seeds of a prior torment-filled and
all-too-slow development. But this can never be realized until the
development of complex material conditions strikes the incendiary
spark of conscious will in the great masses. The victory of
socialism will not descend from heaven. It can only be won by a
long chain of violent tests of strength between the old and the new
powers. The international proletariat under the leadership of the
Social Democrats will thereby learn to try to take its history into
its own hands; instead of remaining a will-less football, it will
take the tiller of social life and become the pilot to the goal of
its own history.
Friedrich Engels once said: "Bourgeois society stands at the
crossroads, either transition to socialism or regression into
barbarism." What does "regression into barbarism" mean to our
lofty European civilization? Until now, we have all probably read
and repeated these words thoughtlessly, without suspecting their
fearsome seriousness. A look around us at this moment shows what
the regression of bourgeois society into barbarism means. This
world war is a regression into barbarism. The triumph of
imperialism leads to the annihilation of civilization. At first,
this happens sporadically for the duration of a modern war, but
then when the period of unlimited wars begins it progresses toward
its inevitable consequences. Today, we face the choice exactly as
Friedrich Engels foresaw it a generation ago: either the triumph
of imperialism and the collapse of all civilization as in ancient
Rome, depopulation, desolation, degeneration--a great cemetery. Or
the victory of socialism, that means the conscious active struggle
of the international proletariat against imperialism and its method
of war. This is a dilemma of world history, an either/or; the
scales are wavering before the decision of the class-conscious
proletariat. The future of civilization and humanity depends on
whether or not the proletariat resolves manfully to throw its
revolutionary broadsword into the scales. In this war imperialism
has won. Its bloody sword of genocide has brutally tilted the
scale toward the abyss of misery. The only compensation for all
the misery and all the shame would be if we learn from the war how
the proletariat can seize mastery of its own destiny and escape the
role of the lackey to the ruling classes.
Dearly bought is the modern working class' understanding of its
historical vocation. Its emancipation as a class is sown with
fearful sacrifices, a veritable path to Golgotha. The June days,
the sacrifice of the Commune, the martyrs of the Russian
Revolution--a dance of bloody shadows without number. All
fell on the field of honor. They are, as Marx wrote about the
heroes of the Commune, eternally "enshrined in the great heart of
the working class." Now, millions of proletarians of all tongues
fall upon the field of dishonor, of fratricide, lacerating
themselves while the song of the slave is on their lips. This,
too, we are not spared. We are like the Jews that Moses led
through the desert. But we are not lost, and we will be victorious
if we have not unlearned how to learn. And if the present leaders
of the proletariat, the Social Democrats, do not understand how to
learn, then they will go under "to make room for people capable of
dealing with a new world."
In spite of the military dictatorship and censorship of the press, in spite of the abdication of the Social Democrats, in spite of the fratricidal war, the class struggle rises with elemental force from out of the Burgfrieden; and the international solidarity of labor from out of the bloody mists of the battlefield. Not in the weak and artificial attempts to galvanize the old International, not in pledges renewed here and there to stand together again after the war. No! Now in and from the war the fact emerges with a wholly new power and energy that the proletarians of all lands have one and the same interests. The war itself dispels the illusion it has created.
Victory or defeat? Thus sounds the slogan of the ruling militarism in all the warring countries, and, like an echo, the Social Democratic leaders have taken it up. Supposedly, victory or defeat on the battlefield should be for the proletarians of Germany, France, England, or Russia exactly the same as for the ruling classes of these countries. As soon as the cannons thunder, every proletarian should be interested in the victory of his own country and, therefore, in the defeat of the other countries. Let us see what such a victory can bring to the proletariat.
According to official version, adopted uncritically by the Social
Democratic leaders, German victory holds the prospect of unlimited
economic growth, while defeat means economic ruin. This conception
rests upon the pattern of the war of 1870. However, the
flourishing capitalism following that war was not the consequence
of the war but of the political unification, even though this came
in the crippled form of Bismarck's German Empire. Economic growth
proceeded out of unification despite the war and the many
reactionary obstacles that came in its wake. What the victorious
war contributed to all this was the entrenchment of the military
monarchy in Germany and the rule of the Prussian Junkers; the
defeat of France helped liquidate the [Second] Empire and establish
the [Third] Republic.
But today matters are quite different in the belligerent states.
Today war does not function as a dynamic method of procuring for
rising young capitalism the preconditions of its "national"
development. War has this character only in the isolated and
fragmentary case of Serbia. Reduced to its historically objective
essence, today's world war is entirely a competitive struggle
amongst fully mature capitalisms for world domination, for the
exploitation of the remaining zones of the world not yet
capitalistic. That is why this war is totally different in
character and effects. The high degree of economic development in
the capitalist world is expressed in the extraordinarily advanced
technology, that is, in the destructive power of the weaponry which
approaches the same level in all the warring nations. The
international organization of the murder industry is reflected now
in the military balance, the scales of which always right
themselves after partial decisions and momentary changes; a general
decision is always and again pushed into the future. The
indecisiveness of military results leads to ever new reserves from
the population masses of warring and hitherto neutral nations being
sent into fire. The war finds abundant material to feed
imperialist appetites and contradictions, creates its own supplies
of these, and spreads like wildfire. But the mightier the masses
and the more numerous the nations dragged into the war on all
sides, the more drawn out its existence will be.
Considered all together, and before any decision regarding military
victory or defeat has been taken, the effect of the war will be
unlike any phenomenon of earlier wars in the modern age: the
economic ruin of all belligerents and to an increasing degree that
of the formally neutral as well. Every additional month of the war
affirms and extends this result and postpones the expected fruits
of military success for decades. In the last analysis, neither
victory nor defeat can change any of this. On the contrary, it
makes a purely military decision extremely unlikely and leads one
to conclude the greater probability that the war will end finally
with the most general and mutual exhaustion.
In these circumstances a victorious Germany would win but a Pyrrhic
victory, even should its imperialistic warmongers succeed in the
total defeat of all its enemies through mass murder and thus
realize its audacious dream. [Germany's] trophies would be: a few
beggared and depopulated territories to annex. Under its own roof
would be a leering ruin. And once the stage scenery of war loan
financing and the Potemkin villages of war contracts and
unshakable national prosperity are pushed aside it will be
immediately seen [as the ruin it is]. It must be clear even to the
most superficial observer that the most victorious state can not
expect any reparations that would even come close to healing the
wounds inflicted by this war. A replacement for this and a
complement of "victory" would be the perhaps even greater economic
ruin of the conquered side: France and England, the very countries
most closely connected economically to Germany and upon whose
welfare she is most dependent for her own recovery. After a
"victorious" war the German people would have to pay back the war
credits granted by the patriotic parliament, that is, in reality
have to bear an immense burden of taxation while enduring a
strengthened military reaction--the only lasting, tangible fruit of
If we seek to imagine the worst results of a [military] defeat,
then, aside from the imperialist annexations, they present feature
for feature essentially the same consequences as would have issued
from victory. The consequences of waging war are today so deeply
embedded and far-reaching in nature that the military outcome has
only minimal effects upon it.
Nevertheless, let us accept for the moment, that the victorious
state would understand how to throw off the burden of great ruin
from itself onto its defeated opponent and to hamstring its
economic development with all sorts of obstacles. Can the trade
union struggles of the German working class go forward after the
war if the union action of the French, English, Belgian, and
Italian workers is thwarted by economic regression? Until 1870 the
workers' movement operated independently in each country; sometimes
key decisions were taken in individual cities. It was in Paris on
whose cobblestones the battles of the proletariat were joined and
decided. The labor movement of today, [because of] its more
arduous daily economic struggle, bases its mass organization on
cooperation [with worker movements] in all capitalist countries.
If the principle is valid that the workers' cause can flourish only
on the basis of a healthy, powerfully pulsating economic life, then
it is valid not only for Germany but also for France, England,
Belgium, Russia, Italy. And if the workers' movement stagnates in
all the capitalist countries of Europe, if there exist low wages,
weak unions, and slight resistance to exploitation, then it will be
impossible for the trade union movement to thrive in Germany. From
this standpoint and in the last analysis, it is exactly the same
loss for the situation of the proletariat if German capitalism
enriches itself at the cost of the French or the English at the
cost of the German.
Let us turn, however, to the political results of the war. Here
differentiation ought to be easier than in the economic area.
Historically, the sympathies and partisanship of the socialists
have been on the side fighting for historical progress and against
reaction. Which side in the present war represents progress and
which reaction? Clearly, this question cannot be answered on the
basis of the superficial labels of the warring states, such as
"democracy" or "absolutism." Rather, [the question should be
judged] on the actual objective tendencies they represent in world
politics. Before we can judge what benefits a German victory would
bring to the German proletariat, we must see what the effects [of
such a victory] would have upon the overall shape of European
The definitive victory of Germany would result in the immediate
annexation of Belgium, as well as additional strips of territory in
east and west, wherever feasible, and a part of the French
colonies. The Habsburg monarchy would be preserved and enriched
with new regions. Finally, Turkey, retaining a fictional
"integrity," would become a German protectorate which would mean
the simultaneous transformation of the Middle East into de facto
German provinces, whatever the form. The actual military and
economic hegemony of Germany in Europe would logically follow these
These results of a decisive German military victory will come
about, not because they correspond to the wishes of imperialist
agitators in this war, but because they are the wholly inevitable
consequences emanating from Germany's position in the world and
from the original conflicts with England, France, and Russia that
have grown tremendously beyond their initial dimensions during the
course of the war. It will suffice to put these results into
context by understanding that under no circumstances will it be
possible to maintain any sort of balance of power in the world.
The war means ruin for all the belligerents, although more so for
the defeated. On the day after the concluding of peace,
preparations for a new world war will be begun under the leadership
of England in order to throw off the yoke of Prusso-German
militarism burdening Europe and the Near East. A German victory
would be only a prelude to a soon-to-follow second world war; and
this would be the signal for a new, feverish arms race as well as
the unleashing of the blackest reaction in all countries, but first
and foremost in Germany itself.
On the other hand, an Anglo-French victory would most probably lead
to the loss of at least some German colonies, as well as
Alsace-Lorraine. Quite certain would be the bankruptcy of German
imperialism on the world stage. But that also means the partition
of Austria-Hungary and the total liquidation of Turkey. The fall
of such arch-reactionary creatures as these two states
is wholly in keeping with the demands of progressive development.
[But] the fall of the Habsburg monarchy as well as Turkey, in the
concrete situation of world politics, can have no other effect than
to put their peoples in pawn to Russia, England, France, and Italy.
Add to this grandiose redrawing of the world map power shifts in
the Balkans and the Mediterranean and a further one in Asia. The
liquidation of Persia and a new dismemberment of China will
In the wake [of these changes] the English-Russian, as well as the
English-Japanese, conflict will move into the foreground of world
politics. And directly upon the liquidation of this world war,
these [conflicts] may lead to a new world war, perhaps over
Constantinople, and would certainly make it likely. Thus, from
this side, too, [an Anglo-French] victory would lead to a new
feverish armaments race among all the states--with defeated Germany
obviously in the forefront. An era of unalloyed militarism and
reaction would dominate all Europe with a new world war as its
Thus proletarian policy is locked in a dilemma when trying to
decide on which side it ought to intervene, which side represents
progress and democracy in this war. In these circumstances, and
from the perspective of international politics as a whole, victory
or defeat, in political as well as economic terms, comes down to a
hopeless choice between two kinds of beatings for the European
working classes. Therefore, it is nothing but fatal madness when
the French socialists imagine that the military defeat of Germany
will strike a blow at the head of militarism and imperialism and
thereby pave the way for peaceful democracy in the world.
Imperialism and its servant, militarism, will calculate their
profits from every victory and every defeat in this war--except in
one case: if the international proletariat intervenes in a
revolutionary way and puts an end to such calculations.
This war's most important lesson for the policy of the proletariat
is the unassailable fact that it cannot parrot the slogan Victory
or Defeat, not in Germany or in France, not in England or in
Russia. Only from the standpoint of imperialism does this slogan
have any real content. For every Great Power it is identical to
the question of gain or loss of political standing, of annexations,
colonies, and military predominance. From the standpoint of class
for the European proletariat as a whole the victory and defeat of
any of the warring camps is equally disastrous.
It is war as such, no matter how it ends militarily, that signifies
the greatest defeat for Europe's proletariat. It is only the
overcoming of war and the speediest possible enforcement of peace
by the international militancy of the proletariat that can bring
victory to the workers' cause. And in reality this victory alone
can simultaneously rescue Belgium as well as democracy in Europe.
The class-conscious proletariat cannot identify with any of the
military camps in this war. Does it follow that proletarian policy
ought to demand maintenance of the status quo, that we have no
other action program beyond the wish that everything should be as
it was before the war? But existing conditions have never been our
ideal; they have never expressed the self-determination of peoples.
Furthermore, the earlier conditions are no longer to be saved; they
no longer exist, even if historic state borders continue to exist.
Even before its results have been formally established, the war has
already brought about immense confusion in power relationships, the
reciprocal estimate of forces, of alliances, and conflicts. It has
sharply revised the relations between states and of classes within
society. So many old illusions and potencies have been destroyed,
so many new forces and problems have been created that a return to
the old Europe as it existed before August 4, 1914 is out of the
question. [It is] as out of the question as a return to
pre-revolutionary conditions even after a defeated revolution.
Proletarian policy knows no retreat; it can only struggle forward.
It must always go beyond the existing and the newly created. In
this sense alone, it is legitimate for the proletariat to confront
both camps of imperialists in the world war with a policy of its
But this policy can not consist of social democratic parties
holding international conferences where they individually or
collectively compete to discover ingenious recipes with which
bourgeois diplomats ought to make the peace and ensure the further
peaceful development of democracy. All demands for complete or
partial "disarmament," for the dismantling of secret diplomacy, for
the partition of all multinational great states into small national
one, and so forth are part and parcel utopian as long as capitalist
class domination holds the reins. [Capitalism] cannot, under its
current imperialist course, dispense with present-day militarism,
secret diplomacy, or the centralized multinational state. In fact,
it would be more pertinent for the realization of these postulates
to make just one simple "demand": abolition of the capitalist
It is not through utopian advice and schemes to tame, ameliorate,
or reform imperialism within the framework of the bourgeois state
that proletarian policy can reconquer its leading place. The
actual problem that the world war has posed to the socialist
parties, upon the solution of which the destiny of the workers'
movement depends, is this: the capacity of the proletarian masses
for action in the battle against imperialism. The proletariat
does not lack for postulates, prognoses, slogans; it lacks deeds,
the capacity for effective resistance to imperialism at the
decisive moment, to intervene against it during [not after] the war
and to convert the old slogan "war against war" into practice.
Here is the crux of the matter, the Gordian knot of proletarian
politics and its long term future.
Imperialism and all its political brutality, the chain of incessant
social catastrophes that it has let loose, is undoubtedly an
historical necessity for the ruling classes of the contemporary
capitalist world. Nothing would be more fatal for the proletariat
than to delude itself into believing that it were possible after
this war to rescue the idyllic and peaceful continuation of
capitalism. However, the conclusion to be drawn by proletarian
policy from the historical necessity of imperialism is that
surrender to imperialism will mean living forever in its victorious
shadow and eating from its leftovers.
The historical dialectic moves forward by contradiction, and
establishes in the world the antithesis of every necessity.
Bourgeois class domination is undoubtedly an historical necessity,
but, so too, the rising of the working class against it. Capital
is an historical necessity, but, so too, its grave digger, the
socialist proletariat. Imperialist world domination is an
historical necessity, but, so too, its destruction by the
proletarian international. Step for step there are two historical
necessities in conflict with one another. Ours, the necessity of
socialism, has the greater stamina. Our necessity enters into its
full rights the moment that the other--bourgeois class
domination--ceases to be the bearer of historical progress, when it
becomes an obstacle, a danger to the further development of
society. The capitalist world order, as revealed by the world war,
has today reached this point.
The expansionist imperialism of capitalism, the expression of its
highest stage of development and its last phase of existence,
produces the [following] economic tendencies: it transforms the
entire world into the capitalist mode of production; all outmoded,
pre-capitalist forms of production and society are swept away; it
converts all the world's riches and means of production into
capital, the working masses of all zones into wage slaves. In
Africa and Asia, from the northernmost shores to the tip of South
America and the South Seas, the remnant of ancient primitive
communist associations, feudal systems of domination, patriarchal
peasant economies, traditional forms of craftsmanship are
annihilated, crushed by capital; whole peoples are destroyed and
ancient cultures flattened. All are supplanted by profit mongering
in its most modern form.
This brutal victory parade of capital through the world, its way
prepared by every means of violence, robbery, and infamy, has its
light side. It creates the preconditions for its own final
destruction. It put into place the capitalist system of world
domination, the indispensable precondition for the socialist world
revolution. This alone constitutes the cultural, progressive side
of its reputed "great work of civilization" in the primitive lands.
For bourgeois-liberal economists and politicians, railroads,
Swedish matches, sewer systems, and department stores are
"progress" and "civilization." In themselves these works grafted
onto primitive conditions are neither civilization nor progress,
for they are bought with the rapid economic and cultural ruin of
peoples who must experience simultaneously the full misery and
horror of two eras: the traditional natural economic system and
the most modern and rapacious capitalist system of exploitation.
Thus, the capitalist victory parade and all its works bear the
stamp of progress in the historical sense only because they create
the material preconditions for the abolition of capitalist
domination and class society in general. And in this sense
imperialism ultimately works for us.
The world war is a turning point. For the first time, the ravening
beasts set loose upon all quarters of the globe by capitalist
Europe have broken into Europe itself. A cry of horror went
through the world when Belgium, that precious jewel of European
civilization, and when the most august cultural monuments of
northern France fell into shards under the impact of the blind
forces of destruction. This same "civilized world" looked on
passively as the same imperialism ordained the cruel destruction of
ten thousand Herero tribesmen and filled the sands of the Kalahari
with the mad shrieks and death rattles of men dying of thirst;
[the "civilized world" looked on] as forty thousand men on the
Putumayo River [Columbia] were tortured to death within ten years
by a band of European captains of industry, while the rest of the
people were made into cripples; as in China where an age-old
culture was put to the torch by European mercenaries, practiced in
all forms of cruelty, annihilation, and anarchy; as Persia was
strangled, powerless to resist the tightening noose of foreign
domination; as in Tripoli where fire and sword bowed the Arabs
beneath the yoke of capitalism, destroyed their culture and
habitations. Only today has this "civilized world" become aware
that the bite of the imperialist beast brings death, that its very
breath is infamy. Only now has [the civilized world] recognized
this, after the beast's ripping talons have clawed its own mother's
lap, the bourgeois civilization of Europe itself. And even this
knowledge is grappled with in the distorted form of bourgeois
hypocrisy. Every people recognizes the infamy only in the national
uniform of the enemy. "German barbarians!"--as though every people
that marches out to do organized murder were not transformed
instantly into a barbarian horde. "Cossack atrocities!"--as though
war itself were not the atrocity of atrocities, as though the
praising of human slaughter as heroism in a socialist youth paper
were not the purest example of intellectual cossack-dom!
None the less, the imperialist bestiality raging in Europe's fields
has one effect about which the "civilized world" is not horrified
and for which it has no breaking heart: that is the mass
destruction of the European proletariat. Never before on this
scale has a war exterminated whole strata of the population; not
for a century have all the great and ancient cultural nations of
Europe been attacked. Millions of human lives have been destroyed
in the Vosges, the Ardennes, in Belgium, Poland, in the
Carpathians, on the Save. Millions have been crippled. But of
these millions, nine out of ten are working people from the city
and the countryside.
It is our strength, our hope, that is mown down day after day like
grass under the sickle. The best, most intelligent, most educated
forces of international socialism, the bearers of the holiest
traditions and the boldest heroes of the modern workers' movement,
the vanguard of the entire world proletariat, the workers of
England, France, Belgium, Germany, Russia--these are the ones now
being hamstrung and led to the slaughter. These workers of the
leading capitalist countries of Europe are exactly the ones who
have the historical mission of carrying out the socialist
transformation. Only from out of Europe, only from out of the
oldest capitalist countries will the signal be given when the hour
is ripe for the liberating social revolution. Only the English,
French, Belgian, German, Russian, Italian workers together can lead
the army of the exploited and enslaved of the five continents.
When the time comes, only they can settle accounts with
capitalism's work of global destruction, with its centuries of
crime committed against primitive peoples.
But to push ahead to the victory of socialism we need a strong,
activist, educated proletariat, and masses whose power lies in
intellectual culture as well as numbers. These masses are being
decimated by the world war. The flower of our mature and youthful
strength, hundreds of thousands of whom were socialistically
schooled in England, France, Belgium, Germany, and Russia, the
product of decades of educational and agitational training, and
other hundreds of thousands who could be won for socialism
tomorrow, fall and molder on the miserable battlefields. The
fruits of decades of sacrifice and the efforts of generations are
destroyed in a few weeks. The key troops of the international
proletariat are torn up by the roots.
The blood-letting of the June days  paralyzed the French
workers' movement for a decade and a half. Then the blood-letting
of the Commune massacres again retarded it for more than a decade.
What is now occurring is an unprecedented mass slaughter that is
reducing the adult working population of all the leading civilized
countries to women, old people, and cripples. This blood-letting
threatens to bleed the European workers' movement to death.
Another such world war and the outlook for socialism will be buried
beneath the rubble heaped up by imperialist barbarism. This is
more [significant] than the ruthless destruction of Liege and the
Rheims cathedral. This is an assault, not on the bourgeois culture
of the past, but on the socialist culture of the future, a lethal
blow against that force which carries the future of humanity within
itself and which alone can bear the precious treasures of the past
into a better society. Here capitalism lays bear its death's head;
here it betrays the fact that its historical rationale is used up;
its continued domination is no longer reconcilable to the progress
The world war today is demonstrably not only murder on a grand
scale; it is also suicide of the working classes of Europe. The
soldiers of socialism, the proletarians of England, France,
Germany, Russia, and Belgium have for months been killing one
another at the behest of capital. They are driving the cold steel
of murder into each other's hearts. Locked in the embrace of
death, they tumble into a common grave.
"Deutschland, Deutschland über Alles! Long live democracy! Long
live the Tsar and Slav-dom! Ten thousand tarpaulins guaranteed up
to regulations! A hundred thousand kilos of bacon,
coffee-substitute for immediate delivery!"...Dividends are rising,
and the proletarians are falling. And with every one there sinks
into the grave a fighter of the future, a soldier of the
revolution, mankind's savior from the yoke of capitalism.
The madness will cease and the bloody demons of hell will vanish
only when workers in Germany and France, England and Russia finally
awake from their stupor, extend to each other a brotherly hand, and
drown out the bestial chorus of imperialist war-mongers and the
shrill cry of capitalist hyenas with labor's old and mighty battle
cry: Proletarians of all lands, unite!
END OF TEXT
FOR FURTHER READING
James Joll, The Second International, 1889-1914 (2nd rev. ed,
J. P. Nettl, Rosa Luxemburg. Abridged ed. (London, 1967)
W. L. Guttsman, The German Social Democratic Party, 1875-1933 (London, 1981)
- Six weeks was the time allotted for victory on the Western Front by the Schlieffen Plan. The general staff was forced to scrap the plan in October 1914, as the war of movement swiftly evolved into grinding trench warfare.
- For three days in April 1903, Kishinev, the provincial capital of Bessarabia in the Russian Empire, was the scene of an anti-Jewish riot. According to an official report, more than fifty Jews were killed and over five hundred injured; hundreds of homes and shops were plundered and vandalized. Local authorities supported antisemitic organizations and deliberately maximized the carnage by holding back on the use of force to reestablish order. Luxemburg here uses the reference to the Kishinev pogrom and to "ritual murder"--the medieval belief that Jews used the blood of Christians, usually children, for ritual purposes--as the nadir of civilization.
- Quoting Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis
- At the close of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, besieged Paris revolted against the regular French government (sitting in Bordeaux). For ten weeks representatives of the working class, organized as the Commune, ruled "the capital of Europe" with an efficiency and fairness that surprised and disturbed the propertied classes all over Europe. Recouping its forces, the elected French government retook Paris in street-by-street fighting marked by wanton atrocities and destruction of property on both sides. The First International, founded by Karl Marx in 1864, was falsely accused of fomenting the Commune. Its true purpose was to unite working class parties in pursuit of the revolutionary goals first outlined in the Communist Manifesto (1848). But doctrinal divisions and factionalism paralyzed the organization which met for the last time in Philadelphia in 1874.
- The successor to the First International, the Second took form in 1889 and recruited most of the Social Democratic parties of Europe from its central offices in Brussels. World War I destroyed the viability of the organization, although it continued to function as the voice of moderate socialists as opposed to the more radical communist parties arrayed in Lenin's Third International or Comintern (1919-43).
- With mobilization at the outbreak of the war, the role of the civilian sector in Germany shrank continually. The country was divided into defense sectors and commanding generals within these took over all the functions of government; they could suspend civil rights, arrest individuals under the guise of protective custody, and exercize considerable powers of censorship. Thus they were able to stifle dissent and particularly to restrict news of the military failures.
- August Bebel (1840-1913), a rarity in the leadership of the European socialist movement, an authentic worker, singlehandedly organized the Marxist branch of the German labor movement in the 1860s and then guided it until his death. The Second Morocco Crisis of 1911 aroused fears of imminent European war. The crisis resolution entailed Germany's recognition of a French protectorate in exchange for a large, relatively worthless strip of French Equatorial Africa. While Britain strongly supported its French ally, Germany had had to back down when its own allies showed clear unwillingness to go to war on behalf of overseas interests. Nationalists at home regarded the outcome as a humiliation, further proof that the kaiser's government was incapable of directing the drive for world power. Leftists saw the crisis as ominous proof of the intentions of militarists and imperialists.
- Sending the German gunboat, Panther, to Agadir, a port in Morocco, was the kaiser's way of announcing his intention of protecting German interests. The symbolic attempt to preempt French designs on erecting a protectorate over Morocco was seen as a provocation and helped the conflict in interest escalate into a full-blown crisis.
- According to legend, Wilhelm Tell and representatives of three Swiss cantons met at Ruetli in 1307 to pledge resistance against Austrian tyranny, the traditional foundation of Swiss freedom.
- In June 1848, four months after the revolutionary overthrow of the Orleanist monarchy in France, the conservative bourgeoisie regained control of Paris amid street-fighting and great bloodshed. The defeat of the Parisian communards in June 1871 by regular French forces was accompanied by mass executions and later deportations. The Russian revolution referred to by Luxemburg took place in 1905. Briefly, working class soviets (councils) controlled St. Petersburg and Moscow, but tsarist forces were able to quell the revolutionaries and reestablish a somewhat modified autocracy.
- The Burgfrieden, literally the "peace of the castle" imposed upon all those seeking shelter in a fortified spot during the Middle Ages, signified the political truce agreed upon by the political parties represented in the Reichstag at the outbreak of the war. After voting the credits that made the war financially possible, members of the Reichstag suspended further elections for the duration of hostilities and declared a cessation of "politics." Essentially, the civilian sector abdicated its responsibility to participate in policy making, leaving all major decisions in the hands of the kaiser's government and then in those of the general staff of the armed forces. This behavior contrasted sharply with that of the western democracies where, all through the war, it was "politics as usual." Only toward the end of the war, did the Reichstag reconquer some of the lost ground of 1914.
- Count Gregory Alexandrovich Potemkin (1724-91) was said to have deceived Catherine the Great of Russia with cardboard facades of new villages he was supposed to have constructed.
- The Herero tribesmen rebelled against German control of their homeland in Southwest Africa, 1903-07. During the brutal wars of pacification, German troops forced men, women, and children into the Kalahari desert where many perished. The extraction of rubber from along the Putumayo River was accompanied by horrifying exploitation of native laborers.