Spoken: October 3 & 4, 1898
Source: Selected Political Writings Rosa Luxemburg, 1971, edited by Dick Howard, text from the German Ausgewählte Reden und Schriften, II (Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1951), 28-33.
Translated: (from the German) John Heckman.
Transcription/Markup: Ted Crawford/Brian Baggins.
Copyright: Monthly Review Press © 1971. Printed with the permission of Monthly Review Press. Luxemburg Internet Archive (marxists.org) 2004.
This is the text of two speeches made to the Stuttgart Congress of the German Social Democratic Party in 1898, in the discussion on tactics.
The speeches of Heine and others have shown that an extremely important point has been obscured in our Party, namely that of understanding the relation between our final goal and our everyday uggles. It might he said that our program has a pretty passage concerning the final goal, which, while it certainly shouldn’t be forgotten, has no immediate relation to our practical struggles. Perhaps there are some comrades who think that speculations about final goals are really academic questions. To them I would say that for us, as a revolutionary proletarian party, there exists no more practical question than that concerning ultimate goals.
Think about it: what really constitutes the socialist character of our whole movement? The really practical struggle falls into three categories: the trade-union struggle, the struggle for social reforms, and the struggle to democratize the capitalist state. Are these three forms of our struggle really socialism? Not at all. Take the trade-union movement first! Look at England: not only is it not socialist there, but it is in some respects an obstacle to socialism. Social reform is also emphasized by Academic Socialists, National Socialists, and similar types. And democratization is specifically bourgeois. The bourgeoisie had already inscribed democracy on its banner before see did,
Then what is it in our day to-day struggles that makes us a socialist party? It can only be the relation between these three practical struggles and our final goals. It is the final goal alone which constitutes the spirit and the content of our socialist struggle, which turns it into a class struggle. And by final goal we must not mean, as Heine has said, this or that image of the future state, but the prerequisite for any future society, namely the conquest of political power. [Shout: “Then we do agree!”] This conception of our task is closely related to our conception of capitalist society; it is the solid ground which underlies our view that capitalist society is caught in insoluble contradictions which will ultimately necessitate an explosion, a collapse, at which point we will play the role of the banker-lawyer who liquidates a bankrupt company.
But if we take the position that we w to bring to fruition the interest of the proletariat, then it is impossible to make statements such as those that Heine has recently made to the effect that we can also make concessions on the question of militarism; it is impossible to make statements such as those of Konrad Schmidt to the central committee of the socialist majority in the bourgeois parliament, impossible to say, as Bernstein has, that once we take over command of the ship, even then we will not be in a position to do away with capitalism. When I read that, I said to myself: what a stroke of luck that the French socialist workers weren’t that bright in 1871, for then they would have said: “Children, let’s go to bed, our hour has not yet struck, production is not yet sufficiently concentrated for us to maintain control of the ship.” But then, instead of a moving drama, instead of a heroic struggle, we would have seen a different scenario, for then the workers would not have behaved like heroes, but like old women. I think that arguments about whether, once we come to power, we s ill be able to make the production process serve society, whether things are ripe for that, that is an academic question. For us there can never be any question that we must struggle to seize political poster. A socialist party must always have a response appropriate to the situation; it can never shrink back from its task. Therefore our views on what our final goals are must be fully clarified. And we will fulfill them, in spite of storm, wind, and weather. [Applause]
Vollmar has bitterly reproached me with trying to preach to older veterans when I am still a young recruit to the movement. That is not the case. It would be superfluous, since I am convinced that the veterans stand firmly on the same ground as I. It is not at all a question of preaching to anyone, but of expressing a particular tactic clearly and unambiguously. I know that I still must earn my epaulets in the German movement; but I want to do it on the left wing, where people struggle against the enemy and not on the right wing, where people seek out compromises with the enemy.[Objections]
But when Vollmar counters my factual presentations with the argument, “You greenhorn, I could be your grandfather,” that proves to me that his logical arguments are on their last legs. [Laughter] In fact, in the course of his presentation he made a series of statements which, coming from a veteran, are confusing, to say the least.
To Vollmar’s sarcastic quotation from Marx on labor laws, I oppose another quotation from Marx, that the introduction of labor laws into England meant nothing less than the salvation of bourgeois society. In addition, Vollmar claimed it was false not to treat the trade-union movement as socialist and pointed to the [English] trade unions. And doesn’t Vollmar know anything about the difference between old and new trade unionism?[A] Doesn’t he know that the old trade unionists stood hard and fast on the side of the bourgeoisie? Doesn’t he know that it was none other than Engels who expressed the hope that the socialist movement might now advance in England because England had lost its supremacy on the world market and that therefore the trade-union movement must take a new path? Vollmar trotted out the specter of Blanquism. Doesn’t he know the difference between Blanquism and Social Democracy? Doesn’t he know that for the Blanquists it is a handful of emissaries who are to take power in the name of the working class; for Social Democrats it is the working class itself? That is a difference that no one who is a veteran of the Social Democratic movement should forget.
Thirdly, he insinuated that I lust for violent means. I have not given any pretext for such an accusation, either in my statements or in my articles on Bernstein in the Leipziger Volkzeitung.[B] I take exactly the opposite position. I say that the only violent means that will bring us victory are the socialist enlightenment of the working class through day-to-day struggle.
One could find no higher compliment for my statements than to say that they are completely self-evident. They are certainly self-evident to any Social Democrat; but they are not self-evident for everyone here at the convention [“Oh!”] for example, not for Comrade Heine with his politics of compensation. How does this relate to the seizure of power? In what does a policy of compensation consist? We demand the strengthening of people’s rights, of democratic freedoms: the capitalist state demands the strengthening of its own forces and its cannon. Evyen given the most advantageous case, that such an agreement is honorably concluded and kept by both sides: what we get is only a piece of paper. Borne has already said: “I would not advise anyone to take a mortgage on a German constitution. for all German constitutions are like so many pieces of furniture.” Constitutional freedoms, if they are to have any permanent worth, must be won through struggle, not through agreements. But what the capitalist state would get by securing an agreement with us has a firm, brutal reality. The cannon and soldiers to which we would agree will shift the objective material balance of power against us. It was none other than Lassalle who said: ”The true constitution of any country consists not in its written constitution, but in the real balance of power.” The inevitable result of a politics of compensation is that we agree to relationships which appear favorable on paper, but which in objective reality favor our opponents; that we basically weaken our own position and strengthen that of our opponents. I ask whether anyone can say that someone who suggests such a thing is seriously trying to take political power? I think that the anger with which Comrade Fendrich emphasized the obviousness of this tendency was erroneously addressed to me; it is basically aimed at Heine. It was only an expression of the sharp contradiction that Heine created between his position and that of our Party’s proletarian convictions when he dared to speak of a politics of concessions toward the capitalist state.
Then take the statement of Konrad Schmidt, that the anarchy of capitalist rule can be overcome through trade-union struggles, or some such. If anything in our program gives credence to the necessity for the seizing of political power, it is the conviction that no medicinal herbs can grow in the dirt of capitalist society which can help cure capitalist anarchy. Anarchy – the terrible sufferings of the working class, the insecurity of people’s existence, exploitation, the distance between rich and poor – increases every day. Can anyone say that someone who wants to solve these problems through capitalist means sees the necessity for the seizure of political power by the working-class? Even here, Fendrich’s and Vollmar’s anger is not directed at me, but at Konrad Schmidt.
And then the well-known statement [by Bernstein] in the Neue Zeit: “The final goal, whatever it may be, is nothing to me: the movement is everything!” Anyone who says that does not stand for the necessity of seizing political power. You see that some comrades in the Party do not stand for the final goals of our movement, and that it is necessary to express that fact unambiguously. If ever it was necessary, now is the time. The blows of reaction shower on us like hail. This debate must answer the Kaiser’s latest speech. Like the Roman Cato, we most say sharply and clearly, “In addition, I am of the opinion that this state must be destroyed.” The conquest of political power remains the final goal and that final goal remains the soul of the struggle. The working class cannot take the decadent position of the philosophers: “The final goal is nothing to me, the movement is everything.” No, on the contrary, without relating the movement to the final goal, the movement as an end in itself is nothing to me, the final goal is everything. [Applause]
[A] The “old” trade unions were professional unions which, by the 1890s, had been fully integrated into the system. The “new” unions, the first of which was led by Tom Mann, John Burns and the Fabian W.A. Morris, wanted to unite the workers of whole industries. Their efforts led to the dockers’ strike in August 1889, and the formation of the dockers’ union. The “new” unions grew rapidly, and fought a number of successful struggles. They then formed the Independent Labour Party, which eventually led to the formation of the Labour Party. As W. Abendroth puts it, “the new trade unions were the first systematic, independent struggle by the working class since the demise of Chartism.”
[B] The reference is to the first part of Social Reform or Revolution, which appeared in the Leipziger Volkzeitung from September 21 to 28, 1898.
Last updated on: 28.11.2008