Rosa Luxemburg

The Dreyfus Affair and the Millerand Case

From: Cahiers de la Quinzaine, no.11;
Translated: for by Mitch Abidor.

Alfred Dreyfus  

The socialist principle of class struggle demands the action of the proletariat wherever its interests as a class are in question. This is the case for all conflicts that divide the bourgeoisie. Every shift in the relation of social forces in bourgeois society, any change in the political relations of the country, influences, in the first place, the situation of the working class. We can’t act as indifferent witnesses to what goes on in the interior of the bourgeoisie, unless socialism could be realized outside of bourgeois society, for example through the foundation in each country of a separate colony. But since we haven’t thought of emigrating, as it were, from bourgeois to socialist society, but on the contrary of overthrowing bourgeois society by means created within that same society, the proletariat must make an effort, in its forward march to victory, to influence all social events in a favorable direction. It must attempt to become a power that weighs ever heavier in the balance in all the political events of bourgeois society. The principle of class struggle not only doesn’t prohibit, but on the contrary it imposes the active intervention of the proletariat in all the political and social conflicts of any importance that take place inside the bourgeoisie.

As concerns the Dreyfus Affair in particular, the intervention of the proletariat in the case need not be justified either from on general point of view, on the subject of bourgeois conflicts, nor from the point of view of humanity. For in the Dreyfus case four social factors make themselves felt which give it the stamp of a question directly related to the class struggle. They are: militarism, chauvinism-nationalism, anti-Semitism, and clericalism. In our written and spoken agitation we always combat these direct enemies of the socialist proletariat by virtue of our general tendencies. It would thus be totally incomprehensible to not enter into a struggle with these enemies exactly when it is a question of unmasking them, not as abstract clichés, but through the use of living current events.

The very participation of socialists in the movement provoked by the Dreyfus Affair cannot be put in doubt from the point of view of the class struggle. It can only be a question of the how of this participation. From this point of view, the role of the socialist working class distinguishes itself in its very essence from the role of the “revisionist”[1] bourgeois elements. While for the latter it was only a matter of the correcting of a legal murder, the case presented socialists with the rare occasion to make evident the disintegration of bourgeois society. While bourgeois elements, in acting upon military headquarters, wanted to cure militarism of its abscess in order to enable it to live, socialists on the contrary were forced to combat the very militaristic system in its decadence and oppose to it the demand for militias and the arming of the people.

The attitude of the socialist party can thus be so fundamentally differentiated from that of bourgeois Dreyfusards that we don’t have any need to speak of any kind of support for the world of bourgeois “revisionism” on the part of the socialists, since the latter have found this an occasion to carry on a totally independent struggle, that is to say, a clearly characterized class struggle which differentiates it from other factions of the movement.

To what extent this movement did, in fact, have this character is another question. It seems to us that from time to time the point of view of abstract justice and the defense of the person of Dreyfus were put too far in the forefront by our comrades, and that we somewhat neglected agitation in favor of the system of militias. As a result, the proletariat acquired less class-consciousness that it could have. But criticism is easy, art is difficult. And in any case, the French comrades will have many occasions to use, for the benefit of the class struggle, the teachings of the Dreyfus affair, once all of the socialists in France will have seized the full import for the proletariat of this social event.

Properly speaking, the political importance of the Dreyfus Affair consists, for us, in that the affair gave the possibility of making a great movement, one which shook the entire country, the object of the class struggle; and in this way we spread, in a short amount of time, more socialist consciousness than we could have developed over many years by means of abstract propaganda for our principles.

It is for this reason that the movement swept up in its irresistible current the socialists of several organizations. And if the Dreyfusard movement has provoked a strong revulsion in socialist ranks this comes, according to us, from the real, though instinctive, feeling that no great spontaneous movement of the French proletariat stops at the limits of the different organizations, but risks sweeping them away. But it’s precisely because of this that the gathering of the scattered forces of French socialism has appeared as the necessary condition for any large and energetic action. Personally, in this great gathering of the different socialist organizations in the free play of the daily political struggle, we don’t fear the least danger for the doctrine of Marx and the principles of democratic socialism, in as much as they have already taken root in France. There is no better school for socialist democracy than the great and living class struggle freed from abstract clichés. The materialist conception of history doesn’t allow us to believe in the development of a living popular movement begotten of abstract formulas; on the contrary, it’s on the material base of a great and strong class struggle, embracing all of the proletariat, that a clear conception of theory and principles will be erected.

The answer to the second question, that is, the participation of socialists in a bourgeois government, depends on the way in which we understand participation: either as a normal form of socialist struggle, much like the participation in legislative assemblies, or as an exceptional measure in an exceptional moment in the life of the state. It would seem to us that Citizen Jaurès, in his article Organisons-nous (Petite République of July 17) took this latter point of view. He there poses the question clearly and distinctly “In time of crisis, and for a specified amount of time, can a socialist respond to the call of bourgeois parties and join with them for an act of government?” He later says, referring to an article of ours that appeared in the Leipziger Volkzeitung (July 6) an article in which we to do not recognize as admissible the entry of a socialist into a government except in absolutely exceptional cases — which we don’t believe presents itself at this moment in France; “This is a question of fact “ (and not of principle). If we pose the question in this way, if we envisage only a set task, it would then be pure dogmatism to categorically say no to the needs of the moment and the complications of the situation.

In the case of Millerand, the question comes down to whether the given situation in France made the entry of a socialist into a ministry truly necessary. Only concrete conditions, which the French comrades alone can judge, can be taken into consideration here. But to the extent that it is permissible for an outsider to have an opinion, it seems to us that the lack of one of the preliminary condition, that is to say, a strong and unified party that alone can mandate such a dangerous experiment, makes this experiment appear to be unacceptable. But in a later article Jaurès seems to pose the question a little differently. In the article ‘Méthode socialiste” (Petit République, August 3) he seems to put the activities of socialists in a bourgeois government on the same plain as their activity in parliament, municipal councils, etc. “What is true,” he says, “is that socialism today is strong enough to appropriate all powers, without being absorbed by bourgeois society.

With this we would accept the principle of penetration of the government as one of the numerous means of socialist action, but this isn’t in harmony with the essential character of socialism. According to us, the point of view that should serve as our guide was developed by us in the above cited July 6 article. We must limit ourselves here to only the essential.

The sole method with the aid of which we can attain the realization of socialism is the class struggle. We can and we must penetrate all the institutions of bourgeois society, and put to use all the events that occur there and that permit us to carry on the class struggle. It’s from this point of view that the participation by Socialists was imposed as a measure of preservation. But it’s precisely from this same point of view that participation in bourgeois power seems counter-indicated, for the very nature of bourgeois government excludes the possibility of socialist class struggle. It’s not that we fear for socialists the dangers and the difficulties of ministerial activity; we must not back away from any danger or difficulty attached to the post in which we are placed by the interests of the proletariat. But a ministry is not, in general, a field of action for a party of the struggle of the proletarian classes. The character of a bourgeois government isn’t determined by the personal character of its members, but by its organic function in bourgeois society. The government of the modern state is essentially an organization of class domination, the regular functioning of which is one of the conditions of existence of the class state. With the entry of a socialist into the government, and class domination continuing to exist, the bourgeois government doesn’t transform itself into a socialist government, but a socialist transforms himself into a bourgeois minister. The social reforms that a minister who is a friend of the workers can realize have nothing, in themselves, of socialist; they are socialist only insofar as they are obtained through class struggle. But coming from a minister, social reforms can’t have the character of the proletarian class, but solely the character of the bourgeois class, for the minister, by the post he occupies, attaches himself to that class by all the functions of a bourgeois, militarist government. While in parliament, or on the municipal council, we obtain useful reforms by combating the bourgeois government, while occupying a ministerial post we arrive at the same reforms by supporting the bourgeois state. The entry of a socialist into a bourgeois government is not, as it is thought, a partial conquest of the bourgeois state by the socialists, but a partial conquest of the socialist party by the bourgeois state.

1. “revisionism” here refers to those who called for the revision of the Dreyfus case, not the followers of Ed. Bernstein


Last updated on: 28.11.2008